The Foodies: Mary Tomaselli: A foodie not to be forgotten
Image by Nancy J. Parisi
At the age of nine, Sherry Tomaselli Nugent’s mother, Mary Tomaselli, literally took her by the hand and said to her, “Come along, we’re going to cook.” Sherry is now the mother of her own four grown children, and she’s carrying on her mother’s family recipes at La Tee Da on Allen Street. Tomaselli passed away in March at the age of fifty-nine, after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.
Over 1,200 people attended a benefit for Tomaselli in April 2010 at Harry’s Harbour Place Grille. The crowd (and accompanying traffic jam) surprised no one who knew the restaurateur and longtime West Side activist, whose vibrant personality and dedication to her community expanded an already large circle of friends and family over the decades.
One lasting aspect of Tomaselli’s considerable skills at friendship is the dinner club group that continues to meet at La Tee Da every Wednesday night. The diverse group is described by member Bruna Michaux as “good friends who enjoy each other’s company.” Michaux, a life-long city resident who recently retired as commissioner of the city’s Department of Assessment and Taxation, notes that she knew Tomaselli for over twenty years and has seen the dinner group expand into a true social network. Once each month, in round robin style, the diners take turns planning a group adventure—say, a hike in Letchworth State Park or a visit to the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Their adventures are continuing, with Tomaselli’s memory and the Wednesday dinners at La Tee Da as the ties that bind.
When we asked Sherry Nugent how La Tee Da’s recipes were developed, she told us that every dish is based on a family recipe of some kind, gathered from aunts, uncles, cousins, and other family members. The Foodies, along with many Spree readers, have long relished Tomaselli family favorites—spinach ball appetizers followed by perfectly prepared thin, crisp chicken cutlets served with pesto pasta. Nugent’s oldest daughter Lindsay will be cooking at the restaurant this summer, and her son Adam is often behind the bar. Nugent’s cousin Noel Morreale owns Fiamma and has just opened another establishment, Bambino, in the Franklin Street site that formerly hosted Duo. Family, friends, and food—the tradition continues.
Tomaselli was a constant and welcome presence in the lives of hundreds in Allentown and throughout the city. Allentown resident Jonathan White notes that her former Allen Street dry-cleaning business became the place for everyone to go where they knew they would find a smile and a welcoming hello. “‘No dry cleaning to drop off today? Then come in anyway, have a glass of wine and sit and tell me how your day is going’— that was Mary.” Later, when the storefront housed her new business, La Tee Da, Tomaselli welcomed each guest as though he or she was coming to dinner at her home.
It is hard to imagine opening the door of La Tee Da without meeting Mary Tomaselli’s warm smile. No matter how busy she was, she was always able to pause for a moment and call out a cheerful welcome and—later—stop by each and every table to make sure all of her customers/friends were happy. Her sense of hospitality is a lasting inspiration to anyone who experienced it—and a legacy of pride for those who are carrying on in her memory.
Vicki G. Marshall is a graphic designer and Margaret M. Toohey is an insurance professional. Both live in Lewiston.