Antonietta "Maria" Romiti, who as a founder of Squire's Restaurant in Dundalk lovingly expanded countless waistlines with her homemade pasta and pizza pies, died Monday of congestive heart failure at her home. She was 72.
In 1952, she and husband, Joseph, purchased what was then a small tavern on Holabird Avenue near Dundalk Avenue and developed the business into a popular eatery that serves more than 6,000 meals weekly.
"Mom began cooking in the kitchen of their second-floor apartment and rushed meals to the tavern below for the largely military clientele from Fort Holabird," said a daughter, Teresa Romiti of Baltimore, who teaches world literature at Eastern Technical High School in Essex and tends to the restaurant bookkeeping on the weekends.
Over the years, several cooks who worked in Mrs. Romiti's kitchen went on to own successful pizza shops, including Tony and Trudy Russo who operate Tony's Pizza, a 400-seat pasta house on the Boardwalk at Division Street in Ocean City.
"Tony and I met while we worked for Miss Mary at Squire's," Mrs. Russo said. "He did the pizza, and I did the pasta. Miss Mary showed us everything we know. She was very good to her employees, and she expected you to do your job well."
"She had a condo down here, and we saw her frequently," she said. "Tony and I will never forget her."
Lorenzo Romiti, a son who is a co-owner of Squire's, said his mother never had formal culinary training.
"She was a naturally gifted cook," said Mr. Romiti of Baltimore. "When she made crab soup the first time it was perfect. She just had the calling."
She was born Antonietta Pastocchi in 1922 in Porto Recanati, a region of rich farmland known as Italy's breadbasket. She completed eighth grade in parochial school and was a tailor during World War II, when German troops occupied her country.
In 1948, through a professional matchmaker, she met Joseph Romiti, a farmer, and the two married in 1949.
"Nobody thought it was going to work after he left for the USA," said the daughter. "But they wrote, and he came back for her. They took off to the new country with their heads full of dreams."
Arriving in Baltimore in December 1949, the couple resided with friends for eight months before buying a house on Collington Avenue where they remained for two years.
After buying Squire's, the couple eventually moved into a house behind the restaurant where they resided for the remainder of their lives.
After her husband died in 1975, Mrs. Romiti kept her hand in the restaurant's operation until she became seriously ill several weeks ago.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Rita's Roman Catholic Church, 2903 Dunleer Way in Dundalk.
In addition to her daughter and son, she is survived by another son, Robert Romiti of Baltimore; and five grandchildren.