Vision, Hard Work, and a Little Thyme: The History of Italian Cuisine in Sault Ste. Marie

Local legend Rosetta Sicoli explains why Italian cuisine is so good in Sault Ste. Marie

Editor’s Note: Rosetta Sicoli, owner of the iconic restaurant A Thymely Manner (now retired), has been a fixture of Sault Ste. Marie's fine dining since the mid-60s. Arriving in the Soo from Italy with her mother and brother while still a girl, Rosetta played an important part in nurturing the incredible Italian cuisine culture still thriving in Sault Ste Marie today. In this story, Rosetta explains, in her own words, how she ended up in the restaurant business and why the best Italian meal north of Milan can be found in Northern Ontario.

Everybody Comes to Rico's 

Imagine a movie called Everybody Comes to Rico’s. It begins in the early 1970s on a warm summer evening—the time of year up North when twilight seems to last all night—and in a little restaurant at 116 Spring Street in Sault Ste Marie, the staff are sitting down to a meal. A feast. Tender mozzarella and green tomato salad, fresh bread, and a big steaming dish of spaghetti marinara thick with the smell of basil. A big tub of homemade spumoni ice cream is waiting in the kitchen.

The owner, Enrico Palarchi, hovers at the end of the table and surveys the scene with a smile. Fifteen years ago, at just 24, he was working alongside many new Italian immigrants in a Northern Ontario lumber company. But Enrico dreamed of something different, of warm olive oil and the recipes he learned growing up in Italy. In 1963 he left the lumber industry and got a job as a butcher, working hard to open up his own deli, and then, in 1972, a catering business. And now, with a talented and dedicated staff at his side, and with the support of his family, his business was thriving and this young city on the edge of Lake Superior was starting to feel like home.

At the table is a rowdy bunch, laughing and joking with the familiarity that only comes from working long hours in close quarters. Though no one knows it now—at least, not consciously—the shining lights of the next 40 years of Sault Ste Marie cuisine are sitting at this table. We can see Arturo Comegna, John and Gino Cavaliere, Dominic CorrodaNina Dumanski, Paul Smith, and Michael and Donna Zaharuk. And, there, perched at the corner of the long table, is winsome Rosetta Sicoli, only 24, and the future owner of A Thymely Manner, a restaurant visited by politicians and celebrities and, in its day, considered one of the very best in Canada.

To listen to Rosetta tell this story in her own words, click the audio player below:

The scene of an Italian feast under a Northern Ontario sky would become a familiar one in Sault Ste Marie, and indeed, would become part of the city's fabric and identity. It is a phenomenon that started with the very first surge of 60,000 Italians to Canada in the early 20th century, harbingers of almost half a million more who would arrive between the 1930s and 1980s.

For Rosetta, the start of her lifetime passion and her career as a restauranteur began at the end of the long and dull summer vacation of 1963. And it all started almost by accident.

Flashback: Growing up in a Restaurant

To listen to Rosetta tell this story in her own words, click the audio player below:

Rosetta: “I started when I was 13 at the Empire Motor Hotel which is now the Holiday Inn Express. My mom was already working there. Being an immigrant, restaurants offered jobs to people without great education or backgrounds. She was already working there as a cook and it was an amazing place. It was summer in 1963 and the dishwasher at the Empire Motor Hotel called in sick and my Mom said to the kitchen manager, “My daughter’s home. She’s never worked, but it’s better than having no one back there.” So she said to me, “Come, do the best you can and try to keep up.” And I guess I did such a great job that Frank—from Frank’s Place on Williamton Street, from the Chinese restaurant—said I had a job for the summer if I wanted it. The rest is history, I guess.”

Indeed it was. Rosetta proceeded to work her way from dishwasher, to salads, to breakfast cook, desserts, waitress, and up to bar manager. Rosetta and her mother would then move on to Rico’s where the heady atmosphere of the most ambitious and most talented young restauranteurs in Northern Ontario swapped stories, secrets, and challenged each other to succeed. No doubt it rubbed off on Rosetta, who—with her mother still by her side—opened A Thymely Manner in 1984.

Fastforward: Growing a Restaurant

thymely-manner

A Thymely Manner

Rosetta and her mother, like Enrico, can be proud of the seeds they were able to bring from the old country and grow in the new. The still vibrant, and still evolving dining culture in Sault Ste Marie is a testament to their vision, passion, and to those long summer evenings learning together how to appreciate the finer things in life. As Rosetta says, "Saul Ste Marie cuisine is very special. It’s almost all independently owned. Even the few franchises in town are owned by residents. Everyone knows each other."

Not all of the friends at Rico's had plans of becoming restauranteurs. In fact, much like Rosetta, many got into the business through family and because it was an accessible industry for new immigrants. Rosetta had plans of continuing her post-graduate education and considered a career in the academy.

But the restaurant business offered its own education and its own difficult challenges. It's not an industry that is kind to everyone. Rosetta is very clear about what it takes: “People don’t appreciate how grueling this job is. Being a restaurant owner means making the choice to have no life. You know, so it’s Mother’s Day—do you want to spend time with your mother or with your kids? Well, the answer is 'neither' because Mother's Day is the busiest day in the industry.”

So what keeps her going? First, it's the people. One customer began coming to "A Thymely Manner" before she was even born—her mother, while pregnant, came to Rosetta's restaurant often. The little girl would celebrate not just her first, but every birthday afterward at A Thymely Manner. Rosetta calls her "The Thymely Baby" and even flew to Toronto to bake the cake for her wedding.

Second, of course—the food! "I love good food. And it can be a sloppy burger—our pulled porks are sooo messy—but I love using good quality meats and vegetables. I try to use as much as I can from the local economy," Rosetta says. She supports local businesses like Marshall Farms and City Meats and doesn't use anything pre-breaded or pre-cut. "No MSG: just salt, pepper, lots of garlic, fresh herbs, good olive oil, vinegar."

After the retirement of her mother and after taking "A Thymely Manner" as far as it could go, Rosetta retired the beloved restaurant. It was a hard decision, but Rosetta wouldn't be quiet for long. The Iron Club Golf Course approached her on multiple occasions to take over their restaurant, and after the Club met all of her demands, Rosetta was back, developing a new menu for a new clientele and in a beautiful new location.  

What's next?

Rosetta: "I want a dock in the front. A pizza oven. Tennis courts, bocce ball: it could all happen on this site. A Thymely Manner went as far as it could go. I did everything I could there, and once I get to a point where I’ve done all I can here [at the Iron Club], then that’s when it’s time for retirement."

image1

Testimonials

Rosetta Sicoli is definitely an artist with both hospitality & food. And she is also an incredibly supportive patron of other artists. I have been the recipient of her generosity many times, most notably for the Soo's city-wide "Homecoming" event in the late 1990s when she hosted and exhibited a retrospective of my paintings and then continued to display my work at Thymely long after. Although I now live on Vancouver Island, whenever I fly home, I make it a point to see Rosetta and have something yummy from her kitchen! She is a treasure! and she is a very dear friend. Love you, Rosetta.

Brian Middleton

12045696 10156009591705858 7880130792911456474 o
Giving, loving and caring are only a few words that begin to describe Rosetta Sicoli, and my experiences are only few of thousands.
I have been so fortunate to be a recipient of Rosetta's generosity and in February 2012 we teamed up to give back together.
In memory of a dear niece and friend we lost to cancer in 2010, we decided that it was time to give back to an organization that gave so much to us, and thousands of other families across Northern Ontario - Northern Ontario Families of Children with Cancer.
Rosetta and I planned an evening of Sharing and Pairing - delicious food, wonderful wines, and even greater company. With personal and business donations, we raised over $7,000 in Lucia's memory.
So many of us in Sault Ste. Marie have had the privilege to share in her warmth and hospitality, at any venue, but most notably A Thymely Manner or The Iron Club.
Thank you Rosetta, for all that you have given to us. We're now a little more Italian because of it.

Emily Hillstrom

12059249 10156009589815858 1306703058 o

A list of Italian restaurants in Sault Ste. Marie!

The Iron Club Restaurant

Barsanti's Restaurant

Arturo's

Quattro Chophouse + Bar

Giovanni's

Cesira's Italian Cuisine

Solo Trattoria

Muio's Restaurant & Tavern

North 82 Steak House

Fratelli's Kitchen

Gigi's

Antico Restaurant

Sandro's Family Restaurant

Uncle Gino's Cafe

Gino's Family Restaurant

Presto Pizza & Family

Paesano Foods

City Meat

Who Has The Best Pizza In Town? Get Your Slice Of The Action!

About Dionne Elgie

Dionne Elgie grew up in Sault Ste. Marie and has a deep personal love for this city, and like many Saultites, a real passion for the great outdoors. Along with her team at DIG (Digital Intelligence Group)—she works with Tourism Sault Ste. Marie to curate compelling travel stories and collect truly useful tour tips that appeal to both local residents and out-of-town visitors. You can contact Dionne at dionne@digdeep.ca—she’d love to hear from you!

Recommended Articles

Spring Smelt Fishing in Ontario

Smelts are running! Fishing with Carter Dorscht.

9 Facts to Know about the Agawa Canyon Tour Train

Get ready for a bucket list experience in the wilderness of Northern Ontario.

Just add kids

Bugs, Planes and an Arcade

The Ultimate Caboose Camping Experience

Under The Aurora Borealis

This should be on your bucket list!

Keep Those Kids Active, Happy And Healthy This Summer

Summer Camps Here We Come!

The Agawa Canyon Tour Train

A Canadian natural wonder in Sault Ste. Marie

Hear That?

Ontario's only national wilderness park is calling you!

3 Waterfalls You Can't Miss Near #theSoo

No need to leave your furry friend at home

Rocky and Rosie are allowed to come!

Six Reasons to Channel Your Wild Side

Who needs a comfort zone?

Where to Eat, Dine, and Play on the Sault Ste. Marie Waterfront

Your guide to discovering the diverse shorelines of a historic Northern Ontario waterway.

Experience The Incredible Indigenous Culture of Bawating

Indigenous Experiences in the Soo

8 Reasons Why You Must go to #TheSoo Right NOW!

4 Amazing Brunch Places You Need To Try in the Soo

Sundays are for sleeping in, spending time with the people you love—and for eating brunch of course!

First Signs Of Spring

All You Can Eat Pancakes And Fresh Maple Syrup

The Real-World Treasure Hunt

Happening Right Now, All Around You!

The Sault Ste. Marie Bucket List

Things you must see and do this winter.

Who Doesn't Like to Island Hop?

Fish, hike and delve into history!

Your 2016 Winter Bucket List

Things You Must See and Do this Winter!