Nellie Chiapparelli, 100, restaurant owner

April 21, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Anna Mary "Nellie" Chiapparelli, who worked alongside her husband at their well-known Little Italy restaurant and created many of its signature pasta dishes, died Sunday of congestive heart failure at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium. She was 100.

Until moving to the nursing home last year, Mrs. Chiapparelli had been a lifelong resident of the Baltimore neighborhood where she and her husband opened their High Street restaurant in the 1940s.

Born Anna Mary Pizza, she attended St. Leo Parochial School and married Pasquale Chiapparelli in 1924. She made ravioli, gnocchi and other pasta dishes for nearly 50 years in the business.

Family members said that after forming the pasta, Mrs. Chiapparelli would take a seat in the restaurant, have a cup of coffee and frequently strike up a conversation with a patron - and then take care of the check.

"She was not shy. She spoke her mind," said grandson Robert Chiapparelli of Towson. "She was known for being outspoken and blunt."

Recently, a family member visited her at the nursing home and took her outside to look at the suburban landscape. Mrs. Chiapparelli said, "I'd rather be on Pratt Street looking at garbage cans."

As the Chiapparelli family matriarch, she greeted noteworthy guests, including President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, who dined at the restaurant in 1979, as well as Brooks Robinson and Johnny Unitas.

Friends recalled she had a piece of pizza with every meal. "She ate it with breakfast, lunch and dinner. She used it like bread," said friend Mary Cortese.

Mrs. Chiapparelli watched the Food Channel many hours of the day. Until two years ago, she washed her own dishes and mopped her kitchen floor. She also cooked and made soup twice a week.

She daily ordered a Chiapparelli house salad - the restaurant's best-known dish, devised by her husband, who died in 1975.

"She was the kind of grandmother who gave me everything," said Bryan Chiapparelli, who now runs the restaurant. "She liked being out of the house and being here, at the restaurant. She and her husband created 85 percent of the recipes we use today."

"She was beloved in her community. Nellie took care of everybody, and everybody took care of Nellie," said Maria Pica, a family friend.

Friends said she was one of the best-known residents in the neighborhood.

"The side door to her house was always unlocked in the morning, and at her command, her son, Nicky, had to go out and fix eggs and coffee for friends. The raviolis she made well into her 90s were just incredible, delicious," Ms. Pica said.

Although her husband went to Naples, Italy, most summers to visit family, Mrs. Chiapparelli declined to travel to the homeland of her parents. She preferred Ocean City and spent many summers there.

A Mass of the Resurrection will be offered at 10 a.m. today at St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church, 227 S. Exeter St., where Mrs. Chiapparelli was a lifelong member.

Survivors include two sons, Louis Chiapparelli of Towson and Charles Chiapparelli of Baltimore; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. She outlived two sons - Joseph "Buddy" Chiapparelli died in 1995, and Pasquale "Nicky" Chiapparelli died in 2002.

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