Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is excited to share our oral history collection with the public, and hope they will shed more light on what makes Greenwich Village and the East Village such unique and vibrant areas. Each of these histories highlights the experiences and insights of long-time residents, usually active in the arts, culture, preservation, business, or civic life of the neighborhood. Last month we launched new collections focusing on the East and South Villages, and have been highlighting some of the featured individuals on Off the Grid; these posts can be read here.
Today marks the 53rd birthday of Andrew Raffetto, one of the current owners and operators of Raffetto’s, located right here in Greenwich Village. Andrew is the grandson of Marcello Raffetto, who opened M. Raffetto & Bros. in the heart of Greenwich Village in 1906. Rafetto’s started as a producer of fresh and dried pasta noodles, gaining popularity, and becoming the place in the Village to obtain fresh pasta, along with homemade sauces and prepared meals. Recently, Andrew and his mother Ramona gave an oral history as part of the GVSHP Oral History Collection focused on the South Village. In it, Andrew and Romana discuss the Raffetto family’s journey to New York City from Italy, the founding of the store and its rise in popularity, and how the Village has changed in their over 100 years of operation.
In the oral history, Andrew recalls a shocking bit of family history he learned of before the Raffetto family came to the United States:
“They originated from a little town called Ognio, up in the hilltops outside of Genoa. And this is a pretty cool story, not so much for Greenwich Village, but just it sounds so crazy, it’s good to hear. There’s a Raffetto who could be some fifth cousin or something, and when this gentleman, Joe Raffetto, retired, he went to Genoa and this little town outside of Genoa, up in the hills. And he did some genealogy-type thing. And from church records, which, before census, the church had records. And somehow he came back with this story that—we’re all sticking to it, cause it sounds so good—that the original Raffettos were two pirates from the port of Genoa. Now they’re criminals, so supposedly they hid in the hills from authorities or something. And I guess they settled and more Raffettos came.” (Andrew Raffetto p. 3)
He also discusses the early history of the store and recounts how their dry noodles helped lead to their popularity:
“Back in the day, as far as the store goes, what’s interesting is very few flavors. We made a meat and spinach ravioli, which is original to the Genoa area. So they made that. I don’t think they made a cheese ravioli to start out with. And probably to back up the theory that if the people from Genoa, from the North, ended up in this area, you would sell what they recognize, and offer it. And then they made spinach and egg noodles. Only two flavors. And what’s interesting is that they were dry. Somewhere we have stationaries that says ‘dry and fresh.’ But even as a small child, I remember we sold and made much more dry noodles. And what’s interesting with the demographics and such, if you think of the lack of refrigeration, a dry noodle—even to this day, your house upstate your pantry’s full, the refrigerator’s empty. It just stores better. So we made tons of dry noodles. And in finding some documents during a construction phase when we gutted the building and renovated the old tenement, we found sales ledgers where my grandfather was mailing pasta. Washington, Philadelphia, it’s almost like the early mail order business, which is kind of fascinating. You think you have a modern plan for your business, and it was done, basically 100years ago, because it was non-perishable.” (Andrew Raffetto p.6-7)
Unfortunately, Andrew also points out the realities of how gentrification has destroyed a lot of opportunities to small operations to thrive in the Village:
“The one thing I would comment about the present-day Village that’s a little sad, I have an opportunity to come to work and experience it. And we own the building. We could always live here if we wanted. But I think the opportunity for people to experience it is just becoming more and more difficult with all the rents. And it’s just not the same. When the rents of the stores are the same, then you don’t have a little bakery or a little doughnut shop. It’s all chain things.” (Andrew Raffetto p.43)
The full transcription and audio for Andrew and Ramona’s interview can be read here. To learn more about our oral history project, listen to some interviews, and read the interview transcripts, be sure to visit our website’s Oral History Collection page. Also, be sure to stay tuned as we interview more village individuals and upload more oral histories to our website.