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 high time he got married and settled down. So 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 got married right away. Charlie returned to America, and Rita followed him 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 Rita's mother, 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 would later become the home of Rita Place.
The apartment building in Chelsea often had no heat or hot water. Charlie remembers having to chop up furniture to burn to make heat for the tenants. When the heat continued to break, the tenants left. 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 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 from scratch. He self-taught 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's 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 became seating rooms and people would walk through the kitchen to get to the eclectically placed tables. Anthony Spinazzola 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 braciola
- Spumoni with claret sauce / ricotta rum cake, meringue
By 1970, Rita and Charlie's children, Paul, Debbie and Ava, who were between the ages 8-10, would come to the restaurant each night to assist Rita and Charlie with serving food.
By 1972, Rita had such a robust base of regular customers that instead of offering tabs or credit, they began offering their own credit cards!
Rita 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. So, in 1983, she began ordering sandwiches for their inflight service and has been ordering from Rita ever since.
Rita's first onsite cafe opened for Meditech. Meditech is still a client today and Rita prepares food for corporate cafes throughout the Boston area
Rita's moved from its original location in Chelsea to Everett Parkway to expand its operations. Although Rita 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 came to the new location and asked 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 as they scaled their companies. With each new relationship, Rita’s catering opportunities have grown as well.
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.