Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: The Busy Bee and its famous spaghetti sauce
Even with more prosperous times after World War II, families only went to sit-down restaurants on special occasions.
Birthdays and decent report cards were two of those special times in our family. Given a choice, we most often favored the Busy Bee.
This popular Italian restaurant was truly a busy place, located at 190 West St., right near the train station. Everyone in our family had their favorites: scallops with coleslaw, paper-thin eggplant, chicken cacciatore, fried chicken and veal parmigiana. But the most popular dish, we agreed, was the spaghetti and meatballs or plain spaghetti, both with the incredible brown sauce. I always wondered just how that tasty sauce was made?
The Busy Bee opened in 1928 by brothers Ulderico "Rico" and Silvio Gamberoni, Italian immigrants, who had a flair for cooking blended with great people skills.
The eatery started with a 14-seat lunch counter and over the years went through numerous expansions as it got to be one of the city's most frequented restaurants. By 1947, the Busy Bee occupied the entire building with seating for 100 patrons, new booths, a counter with 37 stools, a bar, and a bakery.
One of the more interesting dishes was the fresh fish caught in the local lakes by avid fisherman, Silvio. In 1960, the Gamberonis sold their 32-year-old restaurant to a couple of Springfield men, Joseph DiRoma and Attilo Leperi, who continued the same menu with its focus on the Italian-style cuisine. Silvio and Rico helped in the transition, but were ready to relax at home and take nice vacations. However, it was not long before Silvio could be found catering events around the area and at the GEAA club, serving the famous spaghetti and sauce.
In 1963, semi-pro basketball and football player John Dobrutsky became a partner in the enterprise, and he and his wife, Ann, eventually bought the restaurant. In 1968, urban renewal resulted in the razing of the train station and most West Street buildings.
The Busy Bee needed a new home, and the Dobrutskys relocated it to the Allendale Shopping Center. John and Ann kept the place going for nine more years. In 1977, the couple sold the Busy Bee to Jack and Mary Joan Trembler. (Jack had been the head chef at the Captain's Table in Williamstown.)
The Dobrutskys then ran the Longhorn Steak Room at the Edgewood Motel on Pittsfield-Lenox Road and made it a destination for its endless salad bar. The Tremblers expanded the Busy Bee to seat 185 people in the main dining room, plus 40 more in the cocktail lounge, 45 in the Colonial Room, and 20 more at the bar.
The restaurant had become quite different than the original 14-seat lunch counter. The food was still delicious, but mostly seafood as "Chef Jack" had his culinary training at Mama Leone's in New York City, a well-known upscale eatery. The quaint charm of the old West Street location and the Gamberoni's original menu of Italian dishes were both gone. Within a few years, the place closed for good.
Would I ever learn the secret to the Gamberoni's infamous spaghetti sauce? After a lengthy search, I learned that Silvio had a son, John, who shared with me the big secret. There was nothing special about the spaghetti sauce itself, made like any basic recipe with garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, sauce, spices, etc.
The real secret to it was that every morning when one of the Gamberonis made a batch, he poured into it all the leftover juices from half a dozen prime ribs and pork roasts served the day before, giving it a brown hue. It was surely tasty but not the best for low cholesterol, vegetarian or Kosher diets!
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