The History of Maria's
By Diane DiBona in memory of my parents, Louis and Jeanne DiBona
In the Italian town of Bellochi-Fano, a baby girl was born. Bellochi-Fano, meaning “beautiful eyes,” is located in the province of Pesaro on the coast of Italy, east of Florence, overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Nobody knew then that this girl would come to America 18 years later. This beautiful-eyed baby, born July 15, 1905, is the very same Maria that opened Maria’s Restaurant in Braintree, Massachusetts.
I have worked at Maria’s Restaurant since 1978. During that time, the restaurant was owned by Maria’s youngest child, Harold Furlani. I worked for Harold a short time. He sold the restaurant to the current Greek owner in May 1979. This is the only occurrence in the 57-year history of this restaurant that the ownership changed from one family to another.
Although I worked for Harold less than a year, I am the only current employee who worked for the original family. Therefore, questions regarding the history of the restaurant are always forwarded to me. People often tell me they have been coming to this restaurant for 30 or 40 years. They ask me if I remember when there was no back room, and they comment on how little the character of the restaurant has changed. Many of these people know more than I do about this quaint survivor of a restaurant. One night, however, a customer asked me, “Was there really a Maria?”
This question caught me off guard. It made me think that if I did not preserve the history of this place, it would get lost forever. I felt as if the oral history would soon be doubted, and people would forget the personal tales of our immigrants, our ancestors. Their stories are a part of whom we are and what the United States is about. Having lost both my parents recently to cancer, I felt a sense of connection and sorrow that the stories of our parents and grandparents could get lost. I felt compelled to find relatives of Maria and get some information that would complete my story.
As serendipity would have it, I met a woman named Maria at a health club. This very fit, tiny woman is the granddaughter of the Maria I was hoping to learn more about. Once I realized to whom I was speaking, I asked this third generation Maria if I could meet her mother. A few nights later, I found myself at the kitchen table of Dolores (Furlani) Bregoli, the oldest of Maria’s three children. My meeting with Dolores and her husband Louis, took me on a journey through time. This is where my story of Maria (Tonucci) Furlani unfolds.
Maria Tonnuci married Adriano Furlani at the age of 16. They were both from Bellochi-Fano in region of Marche (pronounced ‘markeh’) off the Adriatic. Marchegianni is a dialect word for people from this region, and Dolores tells me that in America, people who were from this area would refer to each other as “Marches.”
In 1923, at 18 years of age, Maria and Adriano Furlani docked at Ellis Island, New York, with $25 and speaking only Italian. The young couple made it to Rhode Island, where Maria’s brother resided. It was her brother who had sponsored Maria and Adriano coming into the United States. After a year in Rhode Island, the Furlani’s moved to East 2nd Street, South Boston in 1924.
Maria and Adriano spent seven years in South Boston, before moving to Dorchester in 1930. During their years in Southie, Maria had two daughters: Dolores in 1925 and Norma in 1928. In 1930, the family of four moved to Dorchester where they bought a home at 14 Everett Street. In 1935, however, they lost their house due to the Great Depression.
Not all was sadness -- Harold Furlani was born in May of 1934. Harold was an energetic child who would bring a lot of joy to the whole family. However, some of his shananigans may not have been appreciated until years later. For instance, as a young boy, Harold climbed the ladder on the side of the gas tank just off Freeport Street. He got half way up and froze in fear. The police had to come and get him down.
Next, the Furlani family moved to 4 Leroy Street, Dorchester, from 1935 to 1937 and took in three borders and another gentleman who just came by for meals. In 1937, they moved to 11 Park Street, Dorchester, and had four borders.
In 1939, they all moved back to Everett Street, including the four borders, and Maria continued to cook for them. There were always at least ten to the table. This lasted for ten years until Adriano had a heart attack in 1948. The doctors did not think he was going to make it, but they were wrong. Adriano bounced back to live 21 more years.
Adriano was a plasterer and after the heart attack could not do this type of work any longer. That is when Maria and Adriano created Maria’s Restaurant. Adriano built the place, with the help of their borders. It seemed that everyone had a particular talent and together they created a success story. They built the dining room, which is the front room today, the kitchen, a private dining area for the family, the bathrooms and an upstairs of three bedrooms, a living room, bathroom and storage room. The family lived upstairs.
It was a natural move for Maria to extend her cooking to all whom cared to come and taste the tremendous flavors of her homeland, Italy. And Adriano worked in the kitchen making salads and antipastos, and kept the place spotless.
Dolores Bregoli remembers the first night the restaurant opened for business in 1950. Maria cooked, Adriano helped in the kitchen, Dolores waited on tables, and her husband, Louis, played the accordion. Two of their previous borders, the brothers Mario and Louis Mogliani, had an ownership’s interest in the restaurant and worked there also. Mario had a head full of curly hair and worked the register. His very bald brother Louis, whom they called Giggetto, helped in the kitchen. There was another friend from Park Street, Dorchester named Rabuffetti who was an artist. This is not the artist who painted the beautiful murals on the walls today. This artist hand carved and painted the “King” and “Queen” signs that went on the bathroom doors. Today, only the “Queen” sign remains.
Maria hired a man named Victor to help her with the cooking. He was seventeen at the time and today Victor owns his own restaurant in Bridgewater, named Vito’s. According to Victor, Maria taught him everything he knows about cooking. Victor is from Bari, Italy, which is along the Adriatic coast, just like Maria’s town of Bellochi-Fano, only further south, east of Napoli.
Friends and family continued to make up the work force. Maria’s brother Gino made pizza dough and pasta from scratch. Freddie Bregoli, the brother of Dolores’ husband, washed dishes. Freddie was a fun guy who wore crazy things and was always joking around and would make Maria and Adriano laugh.
I think this family, including its extended family of friends and borders, came together to create something that is hard to find today. They were all in the same situation in those very hard years. Everyone was willing to work hard and appreciated the fruits of their labor. Learning about these people makes me think of my parents who, as Tom Brokaw put it in his book, The Greatest Generation, were “united by a common purpose, but also by common values - duty, honor, economy, courage, service and love of family and country, and above all, responsibility for oneself.”
Maria and her family continued on for many happy years. Eventually, they moved out of the upstairs of the restaurant and bought a nice home in Braintree and later a winter home in Miami. Her two daughters and one son were married with children of their own, giving Maria and Adriano 12 grandchildren in total. Now there are 20 great-grandchildren and 4 great-great-grandchildren of Maria who are all doing very well, and like myself, will probably never know what it is like to move to an unknown country separated from our homeland by an ocean, not knowing the language, and with practically no money.
In 1964, Maria transferred ownership of the restaurant to her son, Harold Furlani. People still come in asking for him, and I must give them the sad news that Harold passed away in 1998. It is quite sad for the family since he was only 64 years of age and the youngest of Maria’s children. Just recently, a customer came in from Texas and she was asking for Harold. Emily (formerly Keiser) Stone grew up in Braintree on Hillside Avenue and remembers seeing Harold at their high school reunion. Emily stated that, “Harold was such a nice man, a peach of a fellow.”
In 1979, Harold sold the restaurant to two Greek men: Arthur Kyranis and John Gizelis. The Adriatic met the Aegean Sea and the menu changed accordingly. And what a change it was for me working for an easy-going guy to these two slave drivers. When I think back, I honestly don’t know how I survived these two. But I’m still there working the Saturday night dinner rush.
The new Greco-Roman emperors ran a tight ship and I came to respect them both. John and Arthur have their own immigration-to-success stories. John sold his interest in the restaurant to Arthur in 1993, and Arthur became the sole owner. Today, Arthur and his son, Artie, run the restaurant. I remember Artie coming in when he was just a small child with his Dad, the owner. He was such a cute little boy and now he’s all grown up and I work for him.
Growing up in East Braintree, I have watched the landscape change as people build and businesses come and go. Maria’s Restaurant was there before me and is still fully functioning, quite successfully, today. It is the oldest restaurant on the South Shore. I have wonderful memories of being a customer at Maria’s having lunch or dinner with my parents. My parents enjoyed going to Maria’s because of its homey environment. Dad always ordered the broiled schrod while Mom liked to try new things. The waitress and the owner would dote on my parents. Sometimes, Arthur would disappear into the kitchen and come out with a special plate he sautéed just for them. Maria’s remains the quintessential family restaurant.
It all started because a beautiful-eyed baby girl was born in Bellochi-Fano, Italy, in 1905. And the United States provided the opportunities that many countries do not. Our immigrants, with the desire to work hard and support their families, bring out the best people have to offer. I thank Maria and her family for offering their best, and for the legend she left behind.