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Toscani's in Aberdeen closes its doors after more than 40 years

After 42 years in business, Toscani's family restaurant in Aberdeen closed its doors a few weeks back.

Serving the community pasta, salads, sandwiches and much more since June 1969, owners Rose and John Toscani Sr., also of Aberdeen, felt it was time to retire, especially with the direction the economy has been going.

Rose Toscani, 66, said hers and her husband's retirement is "kind of in flow with the economy." Though, the two don't intend to slow down too much right away: they are planning an extended vacation in Italy, where John Toscani Sr. and his family are from.

Toscani said her husband and his parents came to America in 1956, settling in Havre de Grace. Toscani, herself, is originally from North Carolina and moved to Maryland in the early '50s.

It wasn't long after the two got married in April 1968 that they decided to open the restaurant.

"He had always wanted to open one," Toscani said of her husband. Within six months, the decision was made.

"We were one of the first real Italian carry-outs here in Harford County," Toscani remembered.

Since opening the restaurant, Aberdeen has changed and grown along with Toscani's.

A lot more restaurants have opened in the city. "That kind of slowed us down a little, I think," said Toscani. Different movie theaters have closed down ("that was a big thing") and Ripken Stadium went up.

The Toscanis children have also grown up with the restaurant.

Nina Shillman, 35, of Churchville, "pretty much" ran the restaurant in its last incarnation, with son John Jr., 42, of Rising Sun, helping out when he's not working as a police officer in Havre de Grace. Daughter Pam, 44, of Aberdeen, is a caregiver. Toscani said she no longer does as much in terms of working at the restaurant as she used to.

"We raised our children here," Toscani said. "And now they're all grown and have children of their own."

One employee, Barbara Babar, has been with the restaurant for 11 years, Toscani said, cooking and serving food.

The hardest part about closing the restaurant has been saying goodbye to longtime customers, some who have been coming in to eat since Toscani's opened.

"I'm sure they're going to miss us," she said. Toscani added that friends the family has made is one thing she's most proud of from over 40 years in business.

"Some of them will come in and read our little ["closing"] sign that we have out, and say, 'You can't do that!'" Toscani said, chuckling.

Many customers would come into the restaurant asking for Toscani or her husband specifically to make their meal. John Sr.'s Italian sub was a frequent request. "A lot of them are really sad."

Toscani's had been at its last location for 36 years. For the six years prior, the restaurant was near the railroad tracks, across the street from the Redwood Inn, another restaurant now an Exxon gas station.

Then, the restaurant only had three tables and was constantly bringing in business, especially from people stationed at APG.

On Tuesday, Toscani said she was feeling mixed emotions about the impending last day.

"Just so many people have come in to say goodbye," she said, adding that even people who have moved out of state still ask locals if the restaurant is still around.

Toscani told a story of one GI stationed at APG in the early '70s who had taken a menu, then a very small card folded into thirds, to Vietnam with him.

Though neither Toscani nor her husband could remember the young man's name, both recalled that a friend of the GI asked him to bring the menu back to the family, which they've since kept in the back of the restaurant. The couple isn't positive if the man survived the war, but believes he did.

Toscani said she plans to frame the menu, now with a bit of wear and tear but still readable, along with her husband's apron.

John Toscani Sr. said the restaurant's closing hadn't hit him yet Tuesday evening.

He said he would arrive at the restaurant around 5, 5:30 a.m. each morning, set things up and come back later in the afternoon.

"That habit will be hard to break," he said, laughing.

As for the children, Toscani thinks they'll be getting out of the restaurant business now that they're second home is closing. Shillman has plans to go back to school.

"I'll probably be spending time with my grandchildren in North Carolina and here [in Maryland], and spend time with our children," Toscani said. She'll also take this as an opportunity to get to know her husband again; saying when one was at the restaurant the other would be at home.

Also on Toscani's plate: a lot more cooking at home.

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