Charlie and Rita were introduced by their mothers when they were children. At the age of 21, Charlie had just completed his time in the service. His mother told him he was “too old,” and it was time he was married. After spending his years in the service writing to Rita, in 1951 Charlie flew a TWA 4 engine airplane from America to Marsala, Sicily, where they were married right away. Charlie returned to America, and Rita followed as soon as her immigration papers were ready.
While growing up on the farms of Sicily, Rita had taught herself to cook by watching the locals. Through the years, Charlie watched Maria cooking in the kitchen. Everything she did was impressive—making homemade sauce, raviolis and so much more. He started copying her and taught himself to create recipes. In 1960, Rita and her mother Maria Sciortino, bought an apartment building in Chelsea, MA, which was rented out to tenants, and which would later become the home of Rita’s Place.
The apartment building in Chelsea often had no heat or hot water. Charlie remembers having to chop up furniture to burn in order to make heat for the tenants. When the heat continued to break, he had the tenants leave. Maria was very upset about losing the $10 a month rent they were receiving, so Charlie turned the entire building into a submarine sandwich shop to cover the bills.
By 1963, Rita’s place was packed! Local businessmen, tankers pulling into port and nearby residents heard about the food and came to try it. “Whatever we made, it went right away!” Charlie always said.
To meet the demand of their customers, Charlie began to create his own delicious recipes by scratch. He taught himself about new machinery, educated himself on the best meat around, and perfected fresh dough recipes and many other unique spins on the Italian food Maria and Rita were cooking at home.
In 1965, Rita’s began to take reservations. Customers only cared about the food—they did not even care where they sat! The upstairs apartments become seating rooms and people would walk through the kitchen to get to the eclectically placed tables. Anthony Spinezola from the Boston Times wrote, “What is good food doing in a place like this!?” Even the Harvard football team and The Boston Yanks, Boston’s original football team, would come to Rita’s after every game.
Two-time Emmy Award winner, Sonya Hamlin, interviewed Charlie and Rita on her program, The Sonya Hamlin Show. The feedback was overwhelming. At the time, Rita’s didn’t even have a menu, but they served a 9 course meal that included the following:
- Milk croquettes, little nothings, stuffed mushrooms and shrimp scampi
- Eggplant lasagna, tortellini with the cream sauce
- Stuffed Eye Round or Chicken and wine with roasted potatoes and brisoile
- Spumoni with claret sauce / ricotta rum cake, meringue
By 1970, Rita and Charlie's children, Paul, Debbie and Ava, all of whom were between the ages 8-10, would come to the restaurant each night to work with Rita and Charlie serving food.
By 1972, Rita’s had such a robust base of regular customers that instead of offering tabs or credit, they began offering their own credit cards!
Rita’s had so many to-go orders that they naturally grew into a catering company. Corporate customers such as Bloomingdales even requested Rita’s homemade lasagna for their gourmet shop!
One of Charlie's friends who worked for Executive Jet (Now NetJets) arranged travel for doctors traveling from Boston to San Francisco. She called Charlie because she was having difficulty making her airline clients happy. In 1983, she began ordering sandwiches for their inflight service, and has been ordering from Rita’s ever since. Now Rita’s serves more than XXXX airlines/flights each year.
Rita’s first onsite cafe opened for Meditech. Meditech is still a client today with XXX locations, and Rita’s prepares food for more than XXXX corporate cafes throughout the Boston area.
Rita’s moved from its original location in Chelsea to Everett Parkway in order to expand their operations. Rita’s Place was closed as a part of this move. The catering business grew to feed all of Boston’s social and corporate events. Despite closing the restaurant, customers would come by the new location and ask to be served. Never wanting to disappoint, they would feed their eager customers right on the floor.
In 2010, Charlie and Rita retired from the business and Paul and Deb took over.
Boston Properties, MIT, and many other local companies large and small have worked with Rita’s as they scaled their companies. With each new relationship, Rita’s catering opportunities have grown as well. Today, Rita’s serves more than XXXX corporate and private clients each year.
After years of waiting tables as a kid, and summers working catering, Paul’s son, Nick joined the business full time in 2014, making Rita’s a thriving third-generation business.