Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: The Italian restaurant called the Swiss Inn
During the early Baby Boom Years my folks took us on special occasions to Pittsfield's wonderful Italian restaurants. One I recall as Italian and very busy and tasty, was actually called the Swiss Inn, located at 389 Cheshire Road.
The eatery offered great Swiss food with a heavy Italian influence in the dishes, sauces and preparation. No doubt that's why I recall it as Italian. The founders were from Switzerland just across the Italian border.
The Swiss Inn had one of the most interesting stories behind it and during its 16 years in business, it became one of the largest and busiest restaurants in all of the Berkshires.
The owners were Julius and Margherita Campana, who immigrated to Pittsfield in 1928 from a town near Lugano, Switzerland on the Italian border. In Switzerland as a young entrepreneur, Julius owned a spaghetti factory, a hotel and a restaurant and was mayor of his hometown.
By 1914 at age 26, he and a brother also operated 143 moving vans in a trucking business they owned in Paris. Julius was considered an aristocrat, but he shocked his family by marrying Margherita, a maid and 14 years his junior.
With disapproval from his family of the marriage, Julius chose to sell his share of the trucking business and start a new life by immigrating to Pittsfield, where he had friends. He immediately got a job as a pipefitter at General Electric Co., and six months later was able to bring Margherita and his two daughters from Switzerland. It was not the best of times as within a year the stock market crashed, and like many factory workers, he found himself laid off in 1929.
A hard worker with tremendous vision, Julius bought a run down chicken farm in nearby Chatham, N.Y., where he built a stock of chickens and cows. He would sell his eggs and milk in the Berkshires. By the mid-1930s, Julius sold the farm with over 3,500 chickens and invested in rental properties in Pittsfield. He and Margherita both went back to work for GE, and she became one of the only female truck drivers for the company.
After World War II, the Campanas felt that service men and women returning from the war should have job opportunities. The couple, ready for a move, wanted to introduce their native Italian-influenced Swiss cooking and dishes to the Berkshires.
They bought the building on Cheshire Road, and with their grown daughters and husbands, their extended family and friends, they opened the Swiss Inn. People loved the food cooked by the family, and weddings and major social events kept the place filled.
The restaurant became one of the top places in Berkshire County for wedding receptions, and they had to expand four times as the years passed. By the 1960s, there was space inside for 700 guests and outside in a bocce ball/picnic area, another 600 to 800, could gather.
During June, the wedding month, it was not unusual for the Campanas to have three simultaneous afternoon wedding events inside, a clambake outside and three more weddings at night! The family worked hard and long hours, but the owners spent four months in Florida each winter.
In 1963, Julius was in his early 70s and felt it was time to retire, so he sold the Swiss Inn. It went through a number of owners and eventually had a major fire. After sitting in disrepair, the building was razed and the land was sold to the Evangelical Free Church, which erected a new building on the site.
The wonderful aroma of the tasty dishes at the Swiss Inn are long gone, but are remembered by many from the Berkshires. Julius, 79, and Marguerite, 65, both passed away in April 1968.
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native, is the founder of the Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." For more information on the project and books, go to berkshirecarousel.com.
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