Anthony B. Sala, who spent 33 years running a galvanizing business before opening a cafe in Little Italy in his 80s, died of complications from a stroke Wednesday at Stella Maris Hospice Care in Timonium. He was 87.
Mr. Sala, born in East Baltimore to Sicilian immigrant parents, was one of six children. His father died when he was 6. He was an athletic boy who spent most of his time outside playing street ball with his older brothers and friends.
He attended Polytechnic Institute for three years, leaving school in 1937 to become an airplane mechanic and sheet metal worker at Glenn L. Martin Co. Five years later, he met and married Elisa M. DeAngelis. He joined the Army in May 1944, serving as a military policeman in Colorado.
When he returned to Maryland in 1946, Mr. Sala worked two jobs - selling fences to homeowners by day and working the presses at the Treasury Department in Washington by night - so his wife could stay at home with their children.
"Family was everything to him," said his eldest daughter, Elisa Bertrand of Perry Hall. "We'd go on family vacations, but he never went with us. It was just Mom and the four [kids]. He worked very hard so we could be well taken care of."
In rare free moments, Mr. Sala took his eldest daughter crabbing and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay and cooked elaborate Sunday breakfasts featuring his specialty: sunny-side-up eggs.
"In all these years, I still haven't figured out how to make my eggs turn out the way his did," Mrs. Bertrand said.
Cooking was a longtime passion, his daughter said, but with four children to support Mr. Sala didn't have the luxury to pursue it as a career until much later in life.
Instead, he spent much of his life - from 1969 to 2002 - running Baltimore Galvanizing Co. Inc., overseeing the dipping of construction materials and highway posts and guardrails in molten zinc and steel. It was hard work, but Mr. Sala relaxed by playing golf at least once a week and bowling with a Sons of Italy league every Thursday.
It wasn't until he retired from the galvanizing business in 2002 that he considered becoming a restaurateur. He took over Cafe di Roma on High Street in Little Italy in 2003. He was nearly 84 years old, but he didn't let his age slow him down. He worked eight hours a day, six days a week to perfect the Southern Italian recipes that made his cafe a success. Pasta with gorgonzola sauce was a specialty of Mr. Sala's establishment, but his 36 flavors of gelato were also a huge draw, said his daughter.
"He put his heart and soul into that place," Mrs. Bertrand said. "I had no idea it had been his dream his whole life to have a restaurant."
He left the restaurant in 2005. He suffered a stroke the next year, which left him paralyzed on the left side of his body. That year his wife also began ailing after knee surgery and later a faltering heart. She died in July. The couple had been married 65 years.
"After she went, I think, it was hard for him to hang on," said his daughter.
A Mass will be offered at 10:30 a.m. today at Stella Maris chapel in Timonium.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include another daughter, Chris Groh of Baldwin; two sons, John Sala, also of Baldwin, and Tony Sala of Parkville; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.