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  • Courtesy photo

    There was never enough parking at Adamo's in the 1960's, pictured here with its iconic crown-topped sign and lot full of period cars.
  • Courtesy photo

    The original Adamo's, an ice cream stand started by Silvio Adamo in 1953. Several years later, his parents relocated across the road and expanded.
  • Courtesy photo

    Battista and Josephine Adamo first introduced Italian food, including pizza, in the mid-50s at their ice cream stand on the old Milford Road.
  • Courtesy photo

    Olga and Bruno Adamo, photographed several years ago at their Florida home, grew the Amherst eatery into a popular 50s and 60s destination. Olga Adamo died last week at age 87.
  • Courtesy photo

    Bruno Adamo prepared for all-you-can-eat spaghetti night shortly after he and Olga took over Adamo's in the late 50s.
  • Courtesy photo

    Olga and Bruno Adamo, photographed in 1993 at their Florda home, grew the Amherst eatery into a popular 50s and 60s destination. Olga Adamo died last week at age 87.
Saturday, April 28, 2012

Local pizza icon’s passing conjures warm memories

Dean Shalhoup

Unless you were looking for trees or big farms, there wasn’t much way out there in the sticks. Indeed, as any old-time local can tell you, once you passed Eat Here and Get Gas, you pretty much had Milford Road to yourself until you started seeing the big, old homes of East Milford.

Not long after World War II, though, something new appeared on the landscape, just a little ways past Eat Here and Get Gas (actually, the store/gas station was Roy’s Variety, but it was recognized near and far for its iconic rooftop sign). Right about where south Merrimack, Amherst and Hollis come together, a young man named Silvio Adamo had resurrected an old ice cream stand, and come 1953 he was selling cones and cups to anyone he could lure off the narrow, signal-less, two-lane Milford Road rarely referred to as Route 101A.

Four or so years later, Silvio, who was doing pretty well dishing frosty treats, got a call from back home that would not only steer him toward a new career, but lead to one of the luckiest breaks thousands of Nashua-area baby boomers collectively got without even realizing it.

Just laid off from their jobs at the old Cordage Company in Plymouth, Battista and Josephine Adamo, Silvio’s parents, wondered if their son needed some help running his ice cream stand. Sure, Silvio might have said, c’mon up. It was a perfect fit. Assured that his shop was in good hands, Silvio moved on, becoming a farm equipment dealer.

Soon, the Cordage Company was a distant memory for the elder Adamos. Battista made the ice cream; Josephine served it. When customers started asking what else they served, they got the hint. They tried onion rings. The rings were a hit, but their public wanted more. The couple, tightly connected to their Italian heritage, knew what to do.

“Josephine began experimenting with spaghetti, making the sauce on an apartment-sized stove,” Marlene Baldwin, the elder Adamos’ granddaughter, said this week. Like the rings, their spaghetti scored well. It also inspired their next experiment – you guessed it – a new kind of Italian “pie” few in these parts had seen.

The story of the Adamo family, which over three generations wove itself into greater Nashua’s culinary and social culture a pizza and Top 40 pop song at a time, came rushing back this week with unfortunate news that one of its icons, Olga Ann Adamo, had passed in Florida. “Ogie,” as family called her, was for more than 20 years the smiling face behind the U-shaped counter, at the walk-up window and, later, taking your order at your booth.

The roadside landmark, which stood about where Joey’s Diner is today, disappeared sometime in the mid-70s, when Bruno and Ogie sold the property and began a well-deserved retirement in Florida. But they left behind more than a few pleasant memories that live still today in the hearts of the many beneficiaries of their hard work, creativity and culinary expertise.

In the introduction to a family recipe cookbook she published several years ago, Baldwin recalls the days her grandparents unveiled their first pizza pies. “(Many) townspeople had never heard of pizza,” she wrote. “(Their) first week selling pizza, (they) sold just one.”

Perhaps purchased by someone more curious than hungry, the new pie in town nevertheless caught on. “Word spread about the ‘new’ kind of pie at Adamo’s, and pizza became a hit,” Baldwin wrote.

There is no connection, by the way, to the Adamo’s Pizza on Lowell Road in Hudson.

The sudden demand for their pizza prompted the forward-thinking Adamos to buy a big garage across Milford Road, with enough space for commercial dough mixers, ovens and frozen storage, Baldwin said.

On a frigid January night in 1957, Battista Adamo’s life came to a sudden and tragic end in front of his fast-growing business. As he crossed Milford Road for home, a truck, apparently sliding on ice, suddenly appeared around the curve. Battista had nowhere to go; he died at the scene.

As she and Battista had done several years before, Josephine once again turned to family. Bruno and Olga Adamo, with 3-year-old Peter in tow, rolled up their sleeves and went to work almost as soon as they arrived from Plymouth.

“I loved seeing all those young people come in. Pizza, spaghetti, whatever it was – if it was something new, my wife would bring out samples for everyone to try,” Bruno Adamo said by phone from his Florida home. “Lasagna, too, we sold a lot of lasagna.”

Of his accomplishments, the genial, accommodating man of 90 is perhaps proudest of his role as a sort of pizza revolutionary in these parts. “We had to educate everybody. We educated all the French in Nashua about our Italian dishes,” he said with a laugh. “There were a few (pizza makers) around back then, but not many.”

Anyone who stopped at Adamo’s once or twice, or made it a regular date-night destination, won’t be surprised to learn that Bruno, Ogie and the family averaged more than 1,000 pizzas on a given weekend. One Labor Day weekend stands out in Bruno Adamo’s mind – the one they sold upward of 1,500 pies.

Somehow, the Adamos succeeded famously in finding the right balance between the restaurant’s chief constituencies – the giggly, loud-jukebox teen crowd and families with small children. Almost magically, the two normally disparate groups lived as one under the Adamo’s roof, children coloring while munching on the large family special while bobby-soxers and lettermen dropped coins and rocked to yet another No. 1 Beatles release or Pat Boone’s quirky and addictive “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport.”

Peter Adamo essentially grew up in the restaurant. “I started working at 10, washing dishes,” he said. “Later, I was lucky enough to graduate to making the pizzas. I’ve got to say, growing up there was a lot of fun. I made so many friends. A lot of them worked there, too; my father liked to hire teenagers, they worked hard for him,” said Adamo, who graduated in 1971 from then-Milford Area Senior High and lives near his father in Florida.

During one early ’60s expansion, Adamo erected the oft-recalled crown-topped sign, a symbol of his moniker “King of Pizza.” It wasn’t a stretch, said Nashua native Laurie Blais. “My father would take orders from neighbors and go ‘all the way out to Adamo’s’ for 10, maybe 15 pizzas.” Like their Lowell-area contemporaries, Tony & Ann’s Pizza, Adamo’s put up take-home packages of frozen pies, Blais recalled. “They didn’t last long,” she said with a laugh.

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Saturdays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.