Remembering St. Louis restaurateur Rich LoRusso, 1959-2022
The St. Louis restaurant community is mourning the loss of Rich LoRusso, owner of LoRusso’s Cucina. LoRusso passed away on March 9 after battling a rare form of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Rich LoRusso was born in St. Louis in 1959, the youngest of five siblings. Rich was a surprise baby, said Vince LoRusso, one of his three elder brothers. Rich was five years younger than the next of his siblings, but in the LoRusso home his healthy size at birth earned him an affectionate nickname. “We called him ‘Baby Huey,’” Vince said, a reference to the giant cartoon duck featured in 1950s animations.
Rich married his wife Terri in 1982, a union that would be the bedrock not just of his family life but also his career and his contribution to the St. Louis restaurant scene. Rich and Terri opened LoRusso’s Cucina in 1986 on Hampton Avenue, before moving to a new location at 3121 Watson Road three years later. That location on the Hill would prove to be LoRusso’s Cucina’s permanent home, a place that over the next three decades would welcome generations of diners for great Italian cooking and warm hospitality. LoRusso’s cooking was inspired by the Sicilian recipes he learned in his mother’s kitchen, but the menu at LoRusso’s evolved as Rich’s own skills and style blossomed. Trips to Italy provided further inspiration.
As family members, Vince LoRusso and his wife Nancy, Rich’s sister-in-law, were regular diners at LoRusso’s (neither is involved in the business). Nancy said Rich made a meal at LoRusso’s akin to visiting a friend’s house for dinner – and that treatment was not reserved solely for his own family. “If you went to someone's house and they served you a dinner, you would have fellowship time with them,” Nancy said. “Rich recreated that in his restaurant. You came to his restaurant, he cooked you a meal and, whenever possible, he would come to your table and he would sit down and talk. And so he built relationships. And people went back not only because the food was good, but to see Rich and Terri.”
Rich also went the extra mile far beyond the walls of his restaurant, and his contributions to a variety of causes did not go unnoticed in the community. Vince remembered his younger brother as the kind of person who went out of his way to support others in times of need. “He would just show up at their front door, or he would send me,” Vince said. “Those kinds of things really set him apart.” Rich understood that a simple gesture could provide comfort. “Just go, they’ll be smiling,” Rich would say.
In September 2021, Rich announced that he had been diagnosed with an extremely rare form of ALS – in fact, only nine other people worldwide have been diagnosed with the same specific type of ALS. He had been experiencing symptoms for several years, but owing to the rare nature of the condition, identifying the cause proved difficult.
In recent months, as the restaurant community responded firstly to news of Rich’s illness, then ultimately his passing this past week, a recurring theme has been Rich’s selflessness and willingness to help others in need. Nancy LoRusso said the way the community had rallied around her brother-in-law during his illness was more than a gesture of kindness and support – it was testament to the generosity that Rich himself had shown throughout his own life. Quoting a well-known biblical verse, Nancy described how Rich’s generosity had been reciprocated by those around him. “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure — pressed down, shaken together and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6:38)
“What happened was all those years of giving, giving, giving came back, especially this last year,” Nancy said. “People and the restaurant community – and family and friends, of course – were unbelievable. The owners of these restaurants would come and sit with him, bring food to his house. They were extended family to him.”
Even in his passing, Rich LoRusso made sure that he was able to continue giving. He arranged for his body to be donated to research on ALS, which may one day lead to the development of treatments capable of combating or even curing the condition.
Following the news of Rich’s passing, customers, friends and loved ones paid tribute to the late chef by placing flowers outside the entrance to LoRusso’s. The impromptu shrine is evidence of the impact Rich LoRusso made on this corner of the world, but his enduring legacy will be LoRusso’s itself, where Terri LoRusso will continue to oversee operations.
A visitation for Rich LoRusso will be held by his family from 4 to 8 p.m. on Monday, March 28, at St. Ambrose Roman Catholic Church on the Hill. The funeral mass will start at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 29, at St. Francis Xavier College Church. Visitation before the mass will begin at 9 a.m.
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