Book uncovers city’s restaurant history
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Remember the Mural Room, Raver’s, the Italian Restaurant and Jay’s Lunch? How about the Colonial House, the Mansion and Cicero’s?
All were landmark eateries in Youngs-town’s heyday, and all are long gone.
Anyone nostalgic for the city’s lost restaurants — or with an interest in the city’s social history — will be interested in a new book that covers both topics.
“Classic Restaurants of Youngstown” by Thomas Welsh and Gordon F. Morgan will be released Tuesday (224 pages, History Press). It’s the culmination of 14 months of research by the historian-authors, and was produced in collaboration with the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.
It will be available at many local retail outlets, online at historypress.net and at the Memorable Meals event April 27 at the Tyler History Center.
Welsh said the project was inspired by the positive response he received to his book on the defunct Strouss Department Store in Youngstown. “Given Youngstown’s reputation for good food, an historical overview of the local restaurant industry seemed like a natural next step,” he said.
The project was more of a challenge than he anticipated. Because of the large number of restaurants in the area between 1945 and the present, Welsh limited the scope of the book to Youngstown proper.
However, restaurants that were established in Youngstown but moved to outlying communities — a good example is Kravitz Deli, which began as the Elm Street Delicatessen on the North Side in 1939 before moving to Liberty — were also included. Another exception are eateries just outside the city limits but closely associated with Youngstown neighborhoods, such as the Golden Drumstick, which was just south of Midlothian Boulevard.
Welsh and Morgan interviewed scores of people involved in the operation of the restaurants, as well as former employees and customers. Interviewees included the late Carmine Cassese (MVR Restaurant), Jack Kravitz (Kravitz Deli), Charlie Staples (Staples BBQ), Carlos Ramirez (Casa Ramirez), Connie Kushma (Scarsella’s), Carmen Naples (Golden Dawn), Joseph and Morris Levy (20th Century) and many others.
The historical society provided more than 30 of the book’s 78 photographs. In addition, MVHS archivist Pam Speis searched the collection for samples of old menus, advertisements and other mementos. The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County also provided research assistance.
One aspect of the book that makes it unique is its focus on the larger trends affecting the city, and how they affected the restaurant business.
“The book was intended to shed light on the dramatic changes the community experienced in the decades since World War II,” said Welsh. “Its final chapter focuses on the rebirth of independent urban restaurants, especially in the downtown area.”