The recipes will be the same. The only thing new owner John Morgan plans to add to the former Massara’s Market is the internet.
Also his name.
Morgan, a Pittston native and resident who says he practically grew up in Massara’s Market, has purchased the 90-year-old business on Butler Street, renaming it Morgan’s Butcher Shop.
Regular customers should not be surprised, however, if they stop in and see the familiar faces of Gilda and Tony Massara at work behind the meat counter. The Massaras are assisting with the changeover, passing along to Morgan all the secrets to their specialty Italian meats for which the market is famous.
“Their support has been overwhelming,” Morgan’s wife Doreen said of Gilda and Tony, who took over the business from Tony’s parents in 1979 and have operated it since.
“It’s not just the recipes,” John Morgan said of the things he’s learning from the Massaras. “It’s more subtle than that. It’s the process that I’m learning. And the tradition.”
Massara’s Market is a legend not only in Greater Pittston but throughout Wyoming Valley and beyond for such items as its homemade prosciutto, lonza, sopresatta, porketta, chicketta and particularly its homemade sausage, which is available in hot, sweet and wine and garlic varieties.
Tony also makes homemade kielbasi which Gilda says “is not bad for an Italian.”
Tony Massara has become an expert in making these items and is eagerly passing along his knowledge and experience to Morgan the same way his father-in-law taught him. Tony’s dad, Jimmy Massara, was the butcher at the market when he and his wife, Margaret, owned it. Tony would help out on weekends. The meat case was more traditional back then, but not for long.
Enter Sestilio Moriconi, father of Tony’s wife Gilda. From Province di Perugia, Isala Fasara, Italy, Sestilio knew his Italian meats and was only too happy to share that knowledge. Tony proved to be a fast learner.
“Daddy approved,” Gilda said of her husband’s work. “But even in the nursing home when we went to visit he would ask Tony ‘How’s the salami?’ or he would say, ‘Make sure there’s enough salt on the prosciutto.’”
Gilda recalled the days when her father was in the store and Butler Street neighbors such as “Mr. Ciali and Mr. Adonizio,” as she referred to them, “would come in and they all would talk Italian to each other.”
Gilda’s mother, the former Gina Giovannini was an American citizen. Gilda and her sister, Geri, were born and spent their early years in Italy before the family moved to Argentina with Gilda, Geri and her mom arriving on New Year’s Day, 1950. “We came on the boat the Santa Cruz,” she said. “The trip took 22 days.”
Two years later, the family came to America. Gilda was 12 years old. “I spoke no English,” she said, “only Italian and Spanish. I cried myself to sleep every night. I still speak broken English,” she added with a laugh.
Gilda and Tony met when both worked at Star Garment dress factory, where Tony was the “head of pleating” and Gilda operated a sewing machine. She was 17 and it was “love at first sight,” she said. They have been married for 55 years.
Massara’s Market was opened in the early 1920s by Tony Massara’s grandparents, Mary and Tony Massara, a native of Calabria, Italy. They raised five children and it was son, James, who took over the store when the time came. He and Margaret, Tony’s parents, ran it until 1979.
“Those were the days of hanging beef,” Tony Massara said. “The job was a lot harder then. Today, everything comes in bags.”
“My father-in-law took over but the whole family worked in the store at one time or another,” Gilda said. “Uncle Frank later ran his own market on 9th Street in Wyoming and Uncle Nunzi ran a family farm in Harding.”
Tony’s siblings, Annette, Anita, and Diane (deceased) all worked in the store as the family home was located in the rear.
Gilda said she and Tony never regretted their decision to take over the market. “We worked side-by-side for 33 years and we didn’t kill each other,” she said with a laugh.
They are parents of two daughters: Tina LoBrutto and Gina Amy Smith, and have four grandchildren: Maria and Carmen LoBrutto and Mary Kate and Colin Smith. All have helped out at the market.
“Our son-in-law Carmen LoBrutto also helped us immensely, especially around the holidays,” Gilda said. “And we never could have done it without my sister Geri. She still tends to Tony’s garden because he can’t bend over any more.”
Gilda said the busiest times at Massara’s have always been the Christmas holidays and the summer months. “We make more than 500 pounds of sausage for Memorial Day and Fourth of July,” she said.
When Tony, who will turn 77 on August 16, and Gilda, to become 75 on August 13, decided it was time to retire, finding the right person to take over was paramount. John Morgan proved perfect.
A Pittstonian all his life, Morgan spent his youth paling around with William Street neighbor Freddie Mecadon, son of Fred Mecadon, husband of the former Anita Massara. “I was not only in this store all the time, I was always in the back where they lived,” Morgan said. “And how many times did my mother send me here to pick up something?”
His mother, the former Mary Fasciana, is a customer to this day.
It gets better. Morgan’s wife, Doreen, is the former Doreen Turonis. Her late father, Gus Turonis, worked with Gilda and Tony back at Star Garment where the two met so long ago.
John Morgan, 50, has been in the meat business most of his adult life, starting as a butcher at Giant Markets and eventually opened his own super market in Shickshinny, starting as a junior partner in 1992. That market was destroyed by a flood in 2011.
He admitted he missed the business, especially the customers.
“I’m so happy for him,” Doreen Morgan said. “This was almost custom made for him.”
Doreen, a registered nurse and a faculty member at Lackawanna College in Scranton, is learning the business as well. “It’s been a joint effort,” she said, “and don’t tell my husband but I really enjoy working with him.”
Overhearing the comment, John Morgan chimed in, “It’s only been a week.”
The Morgans have a son, Matthew, attending chiropractic school in Iowa, and a niece, Kayla, who lives with them. She just graduated from Misericordia University. Another niece, Elizabeth Mikitish, 19, is already helping out at the shop.
Morgan has renamed Massara’s “Morgan’s Butcher Shop,” but, he said, he likes to think of it as “Morgan’s Pork Emporium.” He promises the tradition of Massara’s Market, from the specialty meats to the personal service, will remain.
So far, the response has been “tremendous,” he said. “I worked in Shickshinny for 25 years and I developed great friendships there which will endure, but coming back I’ve reconnected with people I’ve known all my life.”
Morgan said the shop, located at 106 Butler St., Pittston, will be open Monday through Friday from 9 to 6 and Saturday from 9 to 5. It will be closed on Sundays.
And what about Gilda and Tony Massara?
Well, when not helping the Morgans with the transition and filling up with tears when she talks about “all our faithful customers,” Gilda said she “would love to go to Italy, but my husband doesn’t want to.”
“I keep telling her, ‘I’ll send you,’” Tony added.
They are looking forward to celebrating their 56th wedding anniversary in September, perhaps with some of John Morgan’s prosciutto.