DILLONVALE-For 26 years the storefront at 94 Main St. has been the home of Marsili's Family Restaurant. The walls are covered with signs, photographs and memorabilia of Dillonvale's past among a homey mix of tables, booths and chairs. Aromas of freshly baked bread and pizza waft through the screen door. These days, what is missing from this picture is Carol Marsili, whose spirit of adventure led to the creation of a Dillonvale mainstay.
Carol grew up in Avon Lake, near Cleveland. She met Angelo Marsili after her divorce when her best friend asked Carol to a family party in Dillonvale. Seven months later she married "the nicest man I ever met" and moved her three children from Ohio's north coast to the Ohio Valley. It was 1981, and six months later Angelo's company laid him off. Carol found a job as a bookkeeper, and Angelo was hired again-until 1985 when the company relocated, and he was permanently laid off.
A friend from the garden club persuaded Carol to consider purchasing a small building in town and running her own business. "I went into it thinking at least a restaurant would feed us and pay for itself," Carol recalls. She spent a week at her brother-in-law's pizza parlor learning about the recipes and restaurant business, came home and began developing her own recipes using the samples that salesmen dropped off and family members working on remodeling the building as guinea pigs.
Carol and Angelo Marsili met through a friend in Dillonvale 30 years ago. “He took all of it on—three kids and a wife,” says daughter Christine Hughes. “He made it his mission to provide for us.” Angelo recently retired to become Carol’s primary caregiver as she battles spinal cancer.
"It was just wonderful," she says. "Being an entrepreneur is a creative expression. You can do what you want, and there are so many aspects. I liked to cook, and my kids never had any processed food-no boxed macaroni and cheese, no hot dogs." The menu has been crafted over time, and she's proud of the fact that the food is fresh, produced to order. Today one of their most well known items is the potato pizza, developed after daughter Christine brought one home to try from Ohio University.
Carol also began crafting her philosophy about the business and community. "It's a family restaurant. I wanted a place where women could meet their friends at night for a sandwich. I wanted kids to be able to work there and their parents to know that their kids were safe working there." When the town flooded, she offered the restaurant as a police outpost. Marsili's has provided countless pizzas to schools for lunches and events, and they sponsor little league teams. "The restaurant changed our lives. When I moved here I only had one friend in town-someone in my husband's family-until the restaurant. I've met so many wonderful, wonderful people. Being there drew people to us, but it also worked the other way. I do miss it."
Comments on the restaurant Facebook page reflect fond memories of dancing to the jukebox, Thanksgiving dinners for family and those without a place to go and favorite menu items.
"Hundreds" of teenagers have worked here as their first jobs, including the four Marsili family siblings. Daughters Christine and Stacy and son Tony say that most of their memories are entwined with the restaurant. "We used to get off the bus at the restaurant, and all of us worked there," says Christine.
A baby shower for youngest brother Angelo was held there, and he literally grew up greeting the customers.
Tony adds that the siblings learned a lot about themselves and each other's strengths and weaknesses working together. "Our mother deserves the credit for letting us develop our own ways," he explains. "We're all very different, but she embraced those differences."
Carol has been described as both "a pillar of the community" and "Aunt Bea," but nearly three years ago this entrepreneurial matriarch was side-lined by spinal cancer. "I went to lift a big pot of sauce from the stove, and I felt something in my back pop. I knew I couldn't do it anymore. This was the only way to get away from the pain." "This" is confinement to a bed and wheelchair at her home. She has lost the use of her legs and mid-section, but has been maintaining the books and keeping tabs on the restaurant. The business is still successful, "but times are tough."
Husband Angelo says, "I can see her frustration because her personal touches aren't there. People used to walk in and see her. Now she's unable to add her extra touch to the business." Angelo recently retired from coal mining and is now Carol's primary caregiver. Within the past few months they've made the difficult decision to sell the restaurant with equipment, recipes, inventory and space.
Carol radiates strength during vibrant conversation about business, current affairs and food. Two experiences with the same lesson keep things in perspective for her. The first occurred when her youngest son was born with an intestinal anomaly and had to be taken to Columbus. He pulled through, but disturbing images of other parents' grief remain. "We saw these people and these children, and it was terrible. At one point Angelo said to me, 'you don't have to look far to find someone worse off than yourself.' That really struck me, and I realized how true it was."
More recently, while undergoing spinal treatment, Carol met a man close to her youngest son's age. "He had been in an accident that stretched his spine and was in a brace that tried to compress it. He was depressed, and I thought about all the things that make life worth living-significant others, jobs, children, grandchildren-and how he hadn't even reached that point yet where he had experienced these things. I thought again about what Angelo said, 'you don't have to look far' I returned home to this house, and I felt the love here. I have a lot to live for."
Christine emphasizes her mother's influence. "My mom is an inspiration. She's overcome lots of odds. She's such a strong presence."
Carol, Angelo and the family hope that someone will take a chance on following the dream of owning a business like Marsili's. "It would be great to keep it family-focused and have the new owners offer the same opportunities to others," Tony says. Carol wants the new owners "to have a creative outlet. The restaurant needs different ideas now. It needs someone who cares about the restaurant and cares about the community."
Tony uses a funny story of his mother taking him and his sisters to Florida in a VW Bug to illustrate her "don't hold back" spirit. "If you let yourself be paralyzed by the 'what-ifs,' you'd never do-we'd have never done-the things that make life's adventures."