Cincinnati is well-known for its German heritage because of the immigrants who settled in Over-the-Rhine and the surrounding area so many years ago. But I want to take a moment to recount the story of an Italian-American entrepreneur who ventured to the Queen City in the early 20th century to open what would become a culinary staple in the city for more than a hundred years. This is the story of Salvatore Scoleri, the founder of Scotti’s Italian Restaurant.
He was born in Gerace, southern Italy in 1882. When Scoleri was 15 years old, he became an officer’s cook in the Italian army and travelled frequently, honing his talent as a chef. In 1905, he immigrated to the US with a plan to set up shop in Philadelphia. On the boat over, he befriended a man named Antonio Scotti, a baritone singer with a plan to rise to stardom in America. Once he got to Philadelphia, Scoleri opened his first restaurant, called “The European Restaurant.” While Scotti was making it big in the metropolitan area, Scoleri “had to leave town for some reason” and moved to Cincinnati (specifically White Oak) where he opened a new restaurant in 1912 along the Miami-Erie Canal (present day Central Parkway). He called it “Scotti’s” to honor his friend who had finally made it big like he planned when they met on the boat.
The restaurant moved, eventually landing at 1435 Race Street (the building directly across the street from present day Taft’s Ale House). On January 13th, 1918, Scoleri was shot in the chest by a man named John Ciullo at the Race Street restaurant during a dispute. Ciullo, after being arrested and questioned by CPD, cited self-defense. The argument was reported to be the result of a grudge between the two men dating back to their days within the Italian army almost two decades prior. Scoleri narrowly survived the shooting and lived 43 more years, serving countless dishes to paying customers until his retirement shortly after WWII. Tenerina, Scoleri’s daughter who married into the DiMarco family in October of 1930, took over the business thereafter.
Salvatore Scoleri passed away in May of 1961, only 4 months after his wife. Scotti’s moved several more times before finally settling at the present day Vine Street location and has been run by four generations of the Scoleri-DiMarco family since it opened 103 years ago.
"La Storia." Scottis Italian Restaurant RSS. Web. 07 Jan. 2016. <http://scottiscincinnati.com/history/>.
“Grudge Born in Italy.” The Cincinnati Enquirer 14 Jan. 1918: 2. Print.
“Salvatore Scoleri; Scotti’s Founder.” The Cincinnati Enquirer 25 May. 1961: 40. Print.
Ashton, Judy. “Tenerina V. DiMarco.” The Cincinnati Enquirer 13 Jun. 1992: 33. Print.
Campbell, Polly. “La famiglia runs Scotti’s by tradition.” The Cincinnati Enquirer 11 Dec. 2005: 66. Print.