Monday, April 15, 2024

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Saying Goodbye to a True Slice of Westport

By James Lomuscio

Throughout the day they came, each one anxious to stake a claim to fond memories and his or her slice of American pie.

WestportNow.com Image
Joe Mioli and friends on closing day. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow or WestportNow.com

After more than 51 years as a town hub serving up slices and a welcoming sense of community to generations of townspeople, the Westport Pizzeria opened for the last time today.

“It’s been 51 beautiful years of excitement, good business and lots of memories,” said owner Carmelo Mioli, who with his brother Joe Mioli opened the shop at 107 Main St. on Oct. 12, Columbus Day, 1968. “But it’s time. I’m going to be 80 years old May 19.

“If I don’t retire now, I never will, and I can’t be 100 and still working here,” he added. “There are other things I want to do.”

Mioli, known as Mel around town, moved to the current location in a building he owns on Feb. 24, 2014 after the Main Street lease was not renewed.

Despite a more than 44-year, iconic run on Main Street, Mioli then said retirement was not a consideration, which is the reason he started over at 143 Post Road East. Today, it all changed.

“It’s an emotional feeling that’s hard to explain, seeing people I have not seen for years,” said Joe Mioli, who worked there until he retired in 2004 to run for state representative for the 136th District. In 2005, he won, holding the position until 2011.

“Their faces are imprinted in my mind,” he added. “To me, it’s the end of an era.”

Regulars who said they literally grew up at the Main Street counter, an iconic gathering place where local celebrities sat alongside townspeople, brought gifts, hugs, well wishes and bittersweet nostalgia.

“You guys raised me,” said a middle-aged woman as she threw her arms around the Mioli brothers.

Some asked Mel and Joe to sign their Westport Pizzeria T-shirts, even their pizza boxes. With the final slices seen as edible collectibles, a friend who phoned from Pittsburgh asked for slices to be bought and frozen, so they could be reheated upon his return.

“It’s a sad day,” said Monica Kent of Norwalk, who waited tables and the counter starting in 1984. “I put myself through college here. It’s been my second family.”

Carrie Mioli, Mel’s wife, talked about how the pizzeria forged so many friendships and lasting relationships in town.

In fact, Carrie, who had taught Italian at a Berlitz school on Main Street in the late 1980s, met Mel at the pizzeria. Today they have two grown sons, Frencesco, an attorney, and Alessandro, an accountant.

“It’s more than that just the end of an era,” Alessandro Mioli said. “It’s the last real place in Westport where people can go to meet. It’s a landmark.”

For Westport Pizzeria devotees, it had remained a place where all were welcomed equally, from Paul Newman, Tom Cruise and Jack Klugman to Charlie Moffett, a custodian at the YMCA when it was downtown, and Jim White, a crusty old boxer turned journalist who took notes on pizzeria napkins, to the town’s homeless who could find a welcome spot at the counter.

“It’s been an incredible run,” said Francesco Mioli, “and I’m so proud of my father’s impact on the community.”

As Mel bustled amid the crowd, he mused about his role in town and the signature film of another Italian American, Frank Capra.

“A wonderful life,” he said.

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