Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tony the Chili King

 by Debie Oeser Cox

Antonio "Tony" Petruecelli was born in Viggiano, in Southern Italy on October 1st, 1886. He came to the United States from Italy in 1908, settling briefly in Jefferson County Alabama, where in 1909 he declared his intention to become a U.S. citizen. He was living in Nashville by November 1915, when he was married to Margaret Mazza. The young couple lived with Margaret's parents for several years. Their neighbors were the Sbutonni's, Petrone's and the Formosa's.

Tony Petrucelli and fellow restaurateur Frank Varallo, Sr. about 1916.  This was made at the Subway owned by Frank Varallo, Sr. (TSLA)

In 1921, Tony purchased a three story building at 317 Deaderick Street and opened a restaurant there. Over the years he also had restaurants on 10th Avenue near Union Station, on 5th Avenue and ran "the Banner" restaurant on 3rd. But it was the Deaderick Street location near the public square that Tony stuck with. This store was open 24 hours a day. Tony served hot plate lunches, and sandwiches, but soon became known for his chili. It seems that Italian immigrant families made chili a popular dish in Nashville. A number of Italian families were in the restaurant business in Nashville the early 20th century. These families were intertwined through marriage and business connections.  The Varallo's, Petrone's and Melfi's come to mind. There was disagreement among them as to who made the best chili, and a bit of competition. Tony Petrucelli, had an awning installed, along the front of his restaurant on Deaderick ,with the words, "Tony The Chili King."

Tony's Chili Parlor, 317 Deaderick Street (Nashville Banner 1956)

By 1956 Tony's health was not good and in June he closed the chili parlor. The next month he sold the building, where he had worked for 35 years, to First American Bank. He and Margaret retired to their home at 1908 Broadway. Tony died in 1959 and was buried at Calvary Cemetery. Margaret lived at 1908 Broadway until 1964, when she sold her home. She died in 1970 and was buried beside Tony, at Calvary Cemetery on Lebanon Pk.
(Some information in this story was taken from an article written by Etha Green, and published in the Nashville Banner, July 14, 1956.)

There is a great story in the Nashville Scene about the Varallo family.  Frank Varallo Sr. could rightfully claim the title, Chili King. His family is still selling Chili in Nashville. 

1 comment:

  1. Oh my God, Debie! In 1936 when times were still really hard, my Dad would occasionally bring a quart of this man's chili home and we would dine with the Gods on fare made by the King. That may be a Schlitz sign out front too. You made my day even thought it's 1 below here in north central Missouri.


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