The Rugieros are all about family.
“She is the foundation of not only our family, but our business,” Patrick Rugiero gushes about the matriarch of his family, his mother, Enrica Rugiero, better known as Mama Rita. “And she can cook like you wouldn’t believe!”
Rugiero lights up when speaking of his parents, his siblings and his children. Family is everything. Family is the sun, the moon and the stars. And the story of his family is a warm one that spans several generations and two continents.
Arriving in America from Italy with her three brothers in 1963, Mama Rita was only 19 years old. She grew up cooking under the tutelage of her aunt, who cooked for a royal family in Italy, and she brought her Italian cooking talent with her to America.
Patrick’s father, Antonio, also a first-generation immigrant from Italy, worked at Joe’s Pizzeria in Dearborn. In 1964, Antonio bought the restaurant from Joe, the owner. The two men wrote out their simple agreement on a paper placemat and shook hands. No contract was necessary. That placemat is framed and hanging on the wall of the Roman Village Cucina Italiana to this day.
In 1965, Enrica and Antonio went into their restaurant early the morning of their wedding day and prepared their own reception meal for their wedding celebration. Then they went to the church and were married that day, returning to their Roman Village Cucina with friends and family later to celebrate. Continuing a life of love, family and food in America, the Rugieros went on to have four boys of their own: Patrick, Anthony, Mark and Robert, who have all since had children of their own.
“Right now, we are blessed that her children are all healthy,” Patrick says. “Mama Rita has 13 grandchildren now, and they are all healthy, too.”
ROMAN VILLAGE CUCINA ITALIANA
Open since 1964, the Roman Village Cucina Italiana Restaurant on Dix Road in Dearborn stands as one of Michigan’s iconic dining venues for the last 53 years. That single restaurant is now part of a group of five restaurants, with the newest additions being named after Patrick’s father: Antonio’s Cucina Italiana. The four brothers help Mama Rita run the group of five restaurants.
Oldest son of Antonio and Mama Rita, Patrick Rugiero is a co-owner and the executive director of Roman Village Restaurant Group, which includes the flagship location, Roman Village, and all four of the Antonio’s Cucina Italiana Restaurants. Antonio’s are located in Dearborn Heights, Farmington Hills and Canton, and the newest one in the works will be in Livonia.
With Mama Rita still working in the kitchen, Roman Village and the Antonio’s locations serve truly authentic Italian food. All five restaurants have pasta factories in the dining room where pasta is made fresh daily. Traditional, fresh and simple Old Country family recipes dominate the menu. All soups, sauces, pastas, breads and dressings are prepared in house. There are no preservatives or additives; portions are generous; and a gluten-free menu is available.
With one successful year as chairman of Beaumont’s annual Red Tie Ball in 2016, Patrick Rugiero has embarked on his second year heading up the event with obvious passion and an expertise borne of a man raised in a family that knows how to deliver hospitality in grand doses.
“I’ve been involved with the Red Tie Ball for years as a member of the executive committee,” he says. “Initially, I started with the Oakwood Foundation and then Oakwood merged with Beaumont, so now it is Beaumont Health.”
Last year, the 2016 Red Tie Ball was held at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit and sold out with more than 500 attendees enjoying the casino theme. The successful event raised more than $475,000, with net proceeds of $320,000 benefiting the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Beaumont Hospital-Dearborn and the Center for Exceptional Families. Proceeds also helped to secure state-of-the-art equipment, advanced clinician training and much-needed family support programs.
Rugiero is also on the board of the Rugiero Promise Foundation that was formed in 2011 to honor his father, Antonio, who passed away eight years ago. Proceeds from the events sponsored by the Rugiero Promise Foundation are given to a long list of charities, including the Brem Center at the University of Michigan to help fund research to find a cure for diabetes, Children’s Leukemia Foundation of Michigan, Capuchin Soup Kitchen and the Wayne County Goodfellows.
While the charitable organizations and the family restaurants are important to Rugiero, his family and their legacy is the centerpiece of his life.
“I have 46,000 photos on my phone and 90 to 95 percent of them are of my kids and my family,” he says with a smile. NS
Red Tie Ball
The 2017 Red Tie Ball will be held at the Dearborn Inn from 6-11 p.m. Saturday, May 6. Proceeds benefit the Center for Exceptional Families and Beaumont Hospital-Dearborn Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Attendees can expect an evening of festivities with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and silent and live auctions. This year’s theme is the Gatsby Era. Seating is reserved and there will be dancing to the Rick Lieder Band. Tickets start at $275 and can be purchased at beaumont.org/giving/foundation-events/red-tie-ball.
Roman Village Cucina
9924 Dix Ave., Dearborn
Antonio’s Cucina Italiana