The blog post that I had scheduled for this morning, I have pushed to next week so I could have some time to reflect a great man. My interest in writing this blog post was sparked by an unfortunate death, followed by a remarkable article posted in my local newspaper, the Niagara Gazette. I will link this article, written by Michele DeLuca, here.
My family has owned and operated an insurance agency in the “Little Italy” of Niagara Falls for over half a century, thanks to the drive and determination of my grandfather. Pine Avenue has been a part of my life since the day I was born, and to my family, many, many years before I was even a thought. My family’s business, now run not only by my grandfather, but my mother, has allowed my family to meet and befriend what seems like the entire city of Niagara Falls. One of the greatest my grandfather has ever befriended is the owner of La Hacienda restaurant, ever so conveniently located three doors down from the office.
Aldo Evangelista was one-of-a-kind and hands down the epitome of the American dream. As mentioned in his tribute this morning, he “was born 73 years ago near Naples, Italy, and later moved with his family to Switzerland after World War II [and] came to North America as a young man with a heart full of adventure.” It was a pit-stop in Niagara Falls on a trip to Toronto where he had “the best pizza he ever had in [his] life” and met his wife Lillian, whose family purchased La Hacienda in 1957. After five years of marriage, a head pizza maker quitting, and her family telling him to step in, the rest was history. In 1980 he purchased the restaurant from his in laws and Pine Avenue was never the same. This, detailed in the article published in the Buffalo News this past Thursday, looking back to a 2015 article:
“La Hacienda has become an institution in Niagara Falls but for Evangelista it’s been a 40-year pit stop on what was supposed to be his “world tour.” The 18-year-old Italian immigrant living in Switzerland after World War II planned to travel through South America—Guatemala and Argentina—before working his way across Canada to Vancouver. He got as far as Toronto, where he met his future wife, Lillian. He married and moved to Niagara Falls, where he began working at La Hacienda. Today, the restaurant doesn’t exist without him. When Aldo goes on vacation—like he currently is until Sept. 29—the business goes with him, sitting dark until he comes back to greet customers at the restaurant’s 31st Street entrance.”
After being diagnosed with cancer late last year, he lost his battle . Fittingly so, he died and was found in his restaurant, going out doing what he loved, on Thursday morning.
I feel bad for each and every person that did not get to experience the Aldo era at La Hacienda. Homemade ravioli, meatballs, gnocchi, sauce, and the best pizza in town. There is not one bad thing you can get off the menu; each and every time your meal is as great as the last, proving his consistency was his key to success. His “quest for perfection” when it came to service paid off, and in a big way. He was tough, but had a heart of pure gold, addressing each and every customer formally, and with the upmost respect.
Your experience in this restaurant was always a great one. This very fact being confirmed when my brother chose La Hacienda as his final meal to eat before he moved away to college, and a meal that we have each and every time he comes home for a break.
The generosity this man has shown my family throughout his time on Pine Avenue is something that cannot and will not be replaced. Whether calling my grandfather to walk down to pick up some of his freshly-made ravioli on Tuesdays to bring home to my grandmother, to joining us at our table each time we were there to eat, to speaking Italian with my grandfather, to giving us plenty more than we asked for, or sharing stories of times passed – memories as great as these are undoubtedly priceless.
I wish you eternal happiness, Aldo. This won’t be the same without you. xoxo.