Rigazzi’s is a St. Louis landmark
At 94 years old, Josephine Aiazzi still comes to Rigazzi’s most days for coffee and sometimes to eat. Josephine’s daughter-in-law is the restaurant’s owner, Joan Aiazzi. Joan describes Josephine’s role as “quality control” – and indeed, few have such an intimate link with this institution on the Hill.
Josephine’s late husband Louis opened Rigazzi’s in 1957 with his friend, John Riganti. Rigazzi’s was a portmanteau of its founders’ last names, and Louis and John initially embarked on other ventures together, including a bar. The partnership ended amicably in 1961, with John moving on to pursue his own business interests while Louis focused on Rigazzi’s.
Rigazzi’s still works off many recipes created by Louis, who was formerly a chef at one of the Hill’s legendary restaurants, Ruggeri’s. “My father-in-law was quite the chef, so our sauces are all his recipes still,” Joan said. “A lot of our meatballs and spaghetti and pizza, a lot of things are the same.”
Generations of families have taken those dishes to their hearts, as well as trademarks like the best-selling Famous Parmiciano. This beef Parmesan is available on a sandwich or as an entree with pasta. “Probably at least once a week I have the Parmesan with our slaw,” said Joan. “It’s a little bit of heaven right there.” Another part of the fun is enjoying the House Golden Ale (brewed exclusively for Rigazzi’s by O’Fallon Brewery) or any other beer served in the restaurant’s frozen 32-ounce “fishbowl” glasses.
Rigazzi’s toasted ravioli is another of the signatures that have earned the affections of customers old and new. Originally the labor-intensive, hand-rolled ravioli were prepared in-house; eventually Louis Aiazzi outsourced the operation.
Rigazzi’s has survived and thrived through bigger upheavals. The interior was lovingly restored following a fire in 2000 that forced the restaurant to close for eight months. The collection of celebrity figurines, which sits atop shelves around the perimeter of the front dining room, was partially damaged. Joan’s late husband (and Louis’ son), Mark Aiazzi, simply bought up more of the statues. “He was just on a mission, which I think kept him sane, to be distracted, and he tried to find as many as he could,” Joan said. The restaurant’s ample collection of St. Louis sports memorabilia is another of Mark’s legacies. In fact, in the days of the old Checkerdome Arena, the Blues players themselves were regular visitors to Rigazzi’s.
Mark passed away unexpectedly in 2013, but he remains immortalized in a mural depicting characters from The Godfather trilogy that a local artist painted in the aftermath of the fire. “She put my husband’s face on the bishop,” Joan laughed. “It’s just incredible, it’s so fun.”
4945 Daggett Ave., St. Louis, 314.772.4900, rigazzis.com
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