In 1959, Tarcisio Tecchio and his wife, Nella, left their town in northern Italy and went to Switzerland to find work. It was a classic Bread and Chocolate tale: He worked in construction and she assembled watches in a factory, but after she got pregnant, she had to return to Italy, since it was against the law in Switzerland for non-natives to have children.
For the next 20 years, the couple rarely saw each other for longer than a month at a time. Nella stayed in Italy, taking care of the couple’s six children, while Tarcisio worked abroad, sending money back home to support the family.
He went to South Africa in the late 1960s, working as a body guard to the Spanish ambassador and as a maître d’ at a hotel in Durban. In the early 1970s he left South Africa and worked on oil drilling platforms in the North Sea and Saudi Arabia. He went to Malta in the early 1980s, working as a maître d’, then was a chef on the Orient Express. In 1981, he got his oldest son, Graziano, a job at one of Venice’s most famous restaurants, Antico Pignolo — then left for New York with $50 in his pocket. “He said, ‘I’ll see you in America,’” Graziano recalled. Tarcisio first worked as a chef at Castellano restaurant in New York, then at a high-end restaurant in Washington, D.C., before moving to Kingston, where he was hired as the chef at Hillside Manor.
Eventually Tarcisio partnered with the owner of Mary P’s, down in the Rondout (now Mariner’s Harbor), ultimately buying him out. He also purchased a second restaurant in Kerhonksen, introducing fine Northern Italian cuisine to Ulster County. After serving in the Lagunari (a special military force created by the Crusades in the 14th century), Graziano followed his father to America, arriving in 1987 at age 20. His brother, Ilario, came the next year, followed by Nella and his two sisters, Ileana and Alessandra, shortly after. The two oldest sisters, who by this time were married, stayed in Italy.
The commercial area of lower Broadway in the Rondout was still somewhat shaky, but the place was beginning to come to life, and the real estate was affordable. Tarcisio bought three buildings on Broadway, including the Mansion House, and a small apartment building in Ponckhockie. Besides offering reasonable prices, “the community was very welcoming,” Graziano said.
Nella died in 1998 and Tarcisio in 2004. The buildings were distributed among his children. Rather than simply serve as landlords, however, all of the children now run businesses from their properties, helping shape the character of Rondout with their good taste and fine standards, be it in terms of food, acupuncture, or masonry work. Each worked at Mary P’s while growing up — their mother, Nella, made the pasta and desserts — fostering an ethic of hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit in each of them.
Right place, right time
However, bringing their style of Northern Italian cuisine to what was at that time a less-sophisticated region of the state did involve a learning curve. Graziano said Rondout was slightly behind the times in the late 1980s, with people still wearing mullets and bellbottoms. “They would ask for potato skins and mozzarella sticks. I said, ‘What is that?’ and offered them mussels and squid, and they said, ‘What is that?’” Broadway was a bit iffy above the Golden Duck, located where Savona’s is now. But under former mayor T.R. Gallo, the area started to flourish, he said, so that it turned out the Tecchios were at the right place at the right time.