How Did This All Happen?

The story, as told by Rocco Muriale himself.

Our Heritage

Rocco Sam Muriale was born December 14, 1946 in Clarksburg, West Virginia, the only child of Sam R. Muriale and Rose A (Vilone). I grew up in an area known as Kelly Hill, a four block section of Clarksburg known for its rich Italian culture, where Italian Americans were proud to be Americans, proud to be part of the new world and all it's freedoms. I knew how fortunate I was to be part of that neighborhood and was inspired by many people, simple that had little, but had everything.

People, to this day, that I thank for being just who they were, are: Tony Skinner - "my mentor," Joe Skinner, Joe Minard, Sunny Olivero, Sam and Mike Ielapi, Joe Beer, the Minutellis, Joe Mahoney, Larry Cann, Joe Clamente, "Engine" Arco, Mrs. Zannino, Angelo Alasstano - "My first boss," the Dinaldos, Pauly and Betty Romano, the Tallaricos, Tibby's - at the loop, Rosie and Frank Oliverio, the Bombardiers, the Chidos, the Congis, the Gangos, the Cosmicos, the Naverinos, and poor Ester, born an angel with lesser dreams. She is in Heaven! And there are so many more that would make this page go on forever, ordinary people with extraordinary gifts. I remember how nice they were to us kids and how they would always treat us as their family.

So when you are sitting here in these dining rooms, looking around, you are looking not at what I have done but what all the great people in my life have done for me. That is the driving force that made me the best that I can be and I still feel that I have been blessed beyond any expectations I had for myself.

Growing up with an incredible family and tremendous influences, me and the other kids in the neighborhood knew that we had to do the right thing. We could not let our neighborhood and family down. We could never embarrass our families, we were from Kelly Hill and that meant something! We felt a special honor to uphold. We had to carry on the tradition of doing the right thing and especially work hard for what we earned, no matter what the pay, no matter what the hours.

The really true heroes were my mother and father. The "unselfish ones," watching them worry and labor their way through life, giving and giving with constant layoffs and disappointments. How they lived with limited means but never complained. I learned early that I had to help myself as hard as my parents were trying to help me.

In 1963, and a sophomore in high school, I would encourage my parents to open a small food place. And finally, while I was in the U.S. Army, my parents did. Muriale's restaurant in Fairmont, West Virginia opened three months before I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in August 1969. A decision had to be made. I was an army musician and was accepted into the United States Army field band at the same time my parents opened their restaurant. It was so exciting for me to be accepted into one of the army's prestigious bands, but even more exciting to me was that my parents could finally work for themselves, and I decided to decline the opportunity to stay in the service and return home and help my parents and Uncle Frank. I worked from 1969 to 1977 with my parents and was so proud to be part of their huge success.

I believe that everyone has their own ideas, dreams and styles. I knew then, that Muriale's was my father's and uncle's restaurant and I had to make the hardest decision of my life, the decision to leave the comfort of my family and friends, to find my own way. I recall the saddened feeling and the fear of making such an unprepared move. During this uncertain time, I often thought of my grandparents sailing the ocean in the hull of a boat to the New World. The fears they must have had, knowing nothing of the consequences waiting for them. How did they do it? What gave them the courage?

How could it be so hard to move just three hours away, when my grandparents left their families and country, never to return again? Even realizing that, it was still a hard decision to make. Fortunately, my best friend, Frank Lucente and his wife Betty were so encouraging and gracious in helping to make my decision to move easier. They both truly helped tremendously in those scary, early days and firmly helped me on my way. I knew only one thing about the food business back then; quality could never be compromised, never! Knowing that and knowing that work is a virtue and an honored tradition everything came together.

My only regret is that within nine months of Rocco's Ristorante opening, my father passed away and never got to see how my business developed. He always worried about me being in business and away from home.

I feel so fortunate to have my mother and favorite Aunt Eva Carrico working beside me today. Both work as hard today as they did 50 years ago. Nothing stops them! And the many aunts and uncles and cousins, all were so loving and all were so loved, and the very special ones, my grandparents. It was like watching saints work miracles, brilliant in their detail and common sense. There could never be a greater love than they had for their grandchildren. They were so special and certainly a special breed. I really believe that without knowing them, I would be nothing.

What really gave me the total feeling of acceptance, fulfillment and a special purpose was when I met my wife, Joan Underdonk, and together we had two, cherished children. Samantha Rose, now 27, and Rocco Anthony, 25. Nothing in my life could ever mean more to me. They were the missing void that was finally filled.

So when you are sitting here in these dining rooms, looking around, you are looking not at what I have done but what all the great people in my life have done for me. That is the driving force that made me the best that I can be and I still feel that I have been blessed beyond any expectations I had for myself.

Now going 30 years of business you can still experience the flavors and aromas that have been passed down to me, the flavors and aromas that filled the air of that four-block neighborhood known as Kelly Hill. The food there was never taken for granted and Rocco's food is inspired by the great people in my life and by that great neighborhood. I will continue to offer great food with a personal touch. Start tasting!

Benvenuto e Buon Appetito!

"There can be no taste as the table without love in the kitchen." - Allen Watts

Rocco