WESTERN MONTANA LIVES - Alfredo Cipolato was a Missoula institution
WESTERN MONTANA LIVES - Alfredo Cipolato was a Missoula institution

Growing up in Missoula, I was convinced that Fettuccini Alfredo was named for the man who owned the Broadway Market.

My mother had sent me down to get a cup of grated Parmesan cheese for dinner. Alfredo Cipolato's shop had creaky floors and strange things hanging from the ceiling. He was standing behind a white deli cooler, singing in a language I didn't understand. He asked what I wanted.

I said my mother needed a pound of grated cheese for dinner. Alfredo looked at me.

"You having a party tonight?" he asked in his rolling Italian accent.

"No, just us, I think."

"You sure she want a pound of Parmesan?"

I was sure a pound and a cup were the same. Alfredo cut a wedge from a huge wheel of cheese and flipped on a homemade-looking gizmo that showered grated Parmesan into a paper sack. It ran a long time.

Alfredo handed me the sack, and I handed him a dollar. Even back then, Parmesan cost a lot more than a dollar a pound.

"You sure she said a pound?"

I was sure. And Alfredo Cipolato was not about to let a small boy's pride or dinner be sacrificed to a misunderstanding of weights and measures. He rang up my dollar and wished me a fine meal.

When Alfredo closed the Broadway Market in 2004, he was 93. I visited with him on his last business day, just before New Year's Eve, and we joked about the cheese grater. He invited me to stop by and borrow a cup of Parmesan any time.

After his funeral last Tuesday, tales of generosity were common currency in the St. Francis Roman Catholic Church parish hall. One couple recalled looking for ingredients for their child's baptism party and getting a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne in their grocery bag. Music teacher Mike Rosbarsky once needed a few slices of prosciutto and walked out with the heel of the expensive ham.

A photo of the two men shows Rosbarsky apparently lunging across a stage while Alfredo looks ready to burst with joy. Mike said he was trying to hold a microphone as Alfredo gave his last public performance of "O Sole Mio."

Missoulian editor Sherry Devlin reported the scene:

"Our favorite community event of the past week? No contest. Alfredo Cipolato's unexpected solo, leaning on his cane at the front of the stage, after being introduced Sunday night as the only member of Missoula's Mendelssohn Club to have been with the men's choir all of its 60 years. We couldn't hear all that 93-year-old Cipolato said, and couldn't understand a word of the song he sang in Italian. But there was no mistaking the message of the roaring standing ovation that followed. And the tears many in the packed University Theatre wiped from their eyes."

Alfredo's own stories ran more to smiles than tears. When he was a young man learning the hotel trade in Venice, he received a swastika lapel pin from no less than Gestapo leader Hermann Goering. The next day, when he heard that Germany had annexed Austria, Alfredo threw the pin into a canal.

His training moved to New York City when he came in 1940 with the staff of the World's Fair Italian Pavilion.

"Mrs. Roosevelt and the wife of Fiorello La Guardia, they always came for tea," he recalled. "And they never tipped!"

A few months later, World War II was on. Alfredo found himself rounded up with other Italian citizens as a suspected enemy of the state. The authorities decided to intern him at Fort Missoula. For three years, he worked in area sugar beet fields with other Italian internees, earning $1 a ton.

He met Ann D'Orazi while singing in the St. Francis choir. Missoulian columnist Evelyn King had the following account:

"When the young couple decided to marry, there were a few obstacles, since the war was still in progress and Alfredo was considered an 'alien.' They were finally given permission by U.S. Attorney General Biddell. They were also told not to leave the vicinity of Missoula by 'plane, train or car' for a honeymoon trip.

"Father White of St. Francis solved the problem by giving them bus tickets to Polson where they stayed at the Salish House."

King added that shortly after the birth of Ann and Alfredo's first child, he received deportation orders to return to Italy. The couple appealed to Sen. Mike Mansfield, who got the order blocked. Mansfield also advised Alfredo to promptly apply for citizenship, which he did.

For the next half-century, Alfredo lived a life well-larded with music, food and wonder. He was a founding member of the Missoula Mendelssohn Club and sang with them for 63 years. He and Ann regularly flew to Venice to see friends and family, and even to renew their wedding vows. One trip took place just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: "If you're going to live in fear, you might as well be dead," he said afterward.

Over the cash register in the Broadway Market, Alfredo kept a letter in a sandwich baggie. It was addressed "To the gentleman former Italian line employee who runs a shop selling Italian goods in Missoula; Missoula, Montana; United States of America." It came from Maria Vittoria Romasso, an Italian searching for history of her father, Thomaso Romasso. She'd seen an Italian documentary about interment camps that featured Alfredo, and believed Thomaso might have been a comrade who died at Fort Missoula.

Alfredo was always amused that the letter found him without a ZIP code, address or even a name, from the same Post Office that once spent three days trying to deliver a 30-pound panettone Christmas bread to a Cipolato on West Broadway instead of East Broadway.

The Cipolatos' Broadway Market was a three-dimensional encyclopedia of food. Alfredo loved discussing the difference between shrimp cooked with heads on or heads off, the best ways to serve snails, and the relative qualities of Canadian and Italian prosciutto. He could contrast the food pairings of vintage Champagnes, allowing that he and Ann personally preferred a $12 bottle of Zardetto Prosecco with their scrambled eggs on Sunday mornings.

Worden's Market owner Tim France said he was always amazed at the amount of Parmesan cheese Alfredo ran through that grinder, and still regrets not trying to buy it from him when Alfredo retired.

"I'd just like to keep the tradition going," France said. "It was part of his style."

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