It all began in 1941. Joseph A. Di Salvo along with his Father Benedetto Di Salvo was the founder of DI SALVO’S SPAGHETTI HOUSE. As the fourth Son, Joseph had been working at Johnny’s Bar on Proudfit Street as a bartender. Because of this experience, he had a profound desire to run and own a family restaurant business. He convinced his father he could do it. The location that had been renovated from the Belvedere Pool Hall to a restaurant for another family member, was his choice. He won 3 deferments from induction into the Army to get the business well established before he had to fulfill his Military obligation. It was working with help from his future wife Burnette, at times washing dishes & waitressing. They married during the time he was in the service. He convinced his oldest brother to manage the restaurant while he was away because the next oldest two brothers were already in the army. During the three and a half years in the military he would now and then get leave to return to Madison to work the restaurant. His tour of duty ended when he mustered out at Camp McCoy on February 14th 1946.
His hard work had paid off, the restaurant was catching on in Madison. When returning work full time in the business he began to do the cooking. Then after a while tended bar as his main job, but still did many of the chores of owning a restaurant. As a young boy, I would go with him to the restaurant. I saw first-hand how it was all done. I remember him cooking many times, making the renowned spaghetti sauce, cooking steaks and chops, deep frying the chicken and the popular lightly breaded shrimp. DI SALVO’S was the first restaurant to bring French Fried Shrimp to the Madison area. Being the best tasting sauce, fried chicken and shrimp in town patrons would even order to pick up to go. Often I would walk with him to get bread crumbs or 50 pound bags of potatoes where they were stored at DI SALVO’S Grocery store adjacent to the restaurant. He would push the two wheel cart back to the restaurant with the potatoes and me riding on top of the pile. It was fun! After returning to the kitchen I would get to peel the potatoes in the big peeling machine. Then to the slicer to make French fries ready for the fryer.
He also showed me more of the behind the scenes work. How to stock the bar, fill the milk machine, clean the fryers, do dishes, thawing shrimp and preparing other foods prior to cooking. Best of all how to make DI SALVO’S famous Spaghetti Sauce. When he tended bar I would watch him serve customers. He was very good at it and because of his great personality he was very well liked by the many people he knew. He was very much the Glue that held the business together from beginning to end. In 1960 there was an electrical fire that destroyed enough of the inside that a complete renovation was needed. Being the person he was, he tried to get the restaurant going again. But because of the onset of Multiple Sclerosis it became more difficult for him to even walk. The illness prevented him to go any further in the business so it closed. I did not know it then, during those times I had learned a wealth of cooking skills and knowledge of foods from both my father and mother; as learning still continued at home until they passed in 1991 and 1997.