Louis DiPasquale Jr., patriarch of a family who own and operate a 103-year-old Highlandtown grocery store known for its imported foods and sandwiches, died Thursday at his White Marsh home. He was 95 and had not recuperated from a fall he suffered two years ago.
Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Luigi and Giovanna DiPasquale. His father was from the Abruzzi region of Italy and his mother from Naples. They married in Baltimore and in 1914 founded a corner grocery store in Highlandtown. Louis DiPasquale was born upstairs at this Claremont Street business.
He grew up in a family where his father butchered meats and sold goats and chickens that were kept outside the store, and he did chores to help the business.
He used chemicals to make bleach in vats in an alley near the grocery, and sold it in gallon jugs to customers. He also sat on hucksters’ trucks and sold vegetables and other goods through the byways of the neighborhood. He delivered orders to bars and restaurants and checked the grocery inventories stored in converted garages.
The store sold the staples of olive oil, pastas and other Italian specialties not offered at traditional chain groceries, catering to a section of Highlandtown settled by workers from Bethlehem Steel, Lever Brothers and General Motors.
“We sold everything the people wanted in the neighborhood,” said his son, Joseph DiPasquale, who now operates the business with his siblings and other family members.
Louis DiPasquale attended Our Lady of Pompei School, where he played the trumpet in the school band, then joined the grocery business. During World War II he served in the Army and was stationed in Italy, where he was a military police officer.
“He served proudly, but admitted candidly that as a military police officer he arrived after the battles had been fought,” said his son.
In 1946 he married Mary Mangano, of Overlea. They met at an engagement party for friends in Highlandtown.
“In business, they were married partners. My mother recommended and made the big moves. She was the risk-taker. My father was the stability,” his son said. “In business matters, he could be old-school and pessimistic.”
Mr. DiPasquale was also an officer of the Pompeii Permanent Building Association. He approved loans and mortgages throughout Highlandtown. When it merged and became the Severn Bank in 1980, he retained his seat on its board.
In the 1960s he and others investors built the Carlton Motel and restaurant on Pulaski Highway near White Marsh. The motel had a country and Western-themed bar and restaurant. He made the motel his home in 1966.
“My parents knew the area and they knew its business potential. When I-95 opened, his partners panicked because they thought the traffic would leave Route 40. He bought them out,” said his son.
The elder Mr. DiPasquale later acquired an adjoining 50 acres which he subsequently sold. That property is now a mobile home park.
“For a man who had not much formal education, my father was good with money,” said his son. “He had a sharp mind.”
Patronage at the original Claremont Street grocery store declined in the 1970s as families drove to larger retail outlets.
“We went through lean times,” his son said. “But we always remained open on weekends, which were traditionally our busy period.”
His son said the family gradually rebuilt the business.
“I said to my father, ‘Why don’t I come in on Thursdays and restock the shelves?’ Soon we opened another day, and another,” said his son.
In 1988 when Mr. DiPasquale saw that his family remained interested in the grocery, he bought a commercial property on Gough Street, one block south of the original store. “It was a big move, but not too far from home,” his son said.
He then closed the Claremont Street store and opened DiPasquale’s Italian Marketplace. The new store was larger, with a seating area where customers could eat the overstuffed sandwiches and meals the grocery now offered. The store also imported more foods from Italy and opened a bakery.
In 2008, the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" show filmed at DiPasquale’s, and featured its lasagna, pizza, porchetta and rice balls.
Mr. DiPasquale last visited the store in 2014, when the business celebrated its centennial.
His wife died in 2001.
In addition to his son, survivors include another son, Robert DiPasquale of Kingsville; three daughters, Anna Marie DiPasquale-Boone, Angela DiPasquale-Knox and Donna DiPasquale, all of Baltimore; a brother, Leo DiPasquale of Dundalk; 18 grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; and three great-great-grandchildren. A son, Louis DiPasquale, died in 2014.
A Mass of Christian Burial was held Monday.