Leap of faith forever changed a family and their new hometown
More than 40 years ago, Tony Maucieri saw a “For Sale” ad in the Chicago Tribune that would forever change his life and the small town where the ad would take him.
Having never worked in a professional kitchen or tended bar in his life, Maucieri took a tremendous leap of faith, moving his wife, children, mother-in-law and sisters- and brothers-in-law from the Windy City to tiny Crosslake to own and operate the former Echo Ridge Supper Club.
The Maucieri clan arrived in Crosslake in the dead of winter, one of the worst Maucieri remembers before the bitter cold of this year.
“It was January, and it was 40 below,” he said. “I thought I was crazy.”
That winter brought a lot of firsts for him and his family, from learning how to operate a restaurant to learning to ride snowmobiles. That spring brought a first for Crosslake: to drum up business for a town in hibernation, Maucieri helped organize the first St. Patrick’s Day parade, now in its 40th year.
These days, you can usually find him prep cooking in the kitchen or chatting at the bar with the patrons of his family’s latest venture, Maucieri’s Italian Bistro, Bar & Deli.
“I’ve been up here longer now than I was in Chicago,” he said.
Born in 1937 to a trucking dispatcher and a stay-at-home mother, Maucieri is the oldest of six siblings — three brothers and two sisters. Although his parents were American-born, they and his grandmother spoke Italian around the house, though he never learned too much of it.
“They spoke it when they didn’t want us to know what they were talking about,” he said. “So they never taught us.”
His first job was delivering groceries, and later, he worked as a milkman. While his work seemed to mostly revolve around food, his move to Crosslake was his first foray into the restaurant business, a move that continues to pay off.
Growing up, Maucieri enjoyed sports and played both baseball and football. It was on his way to a football rally at a nearby high school that he first laid eyes upon his future wife, Joanie. As 15-year-old Joanie walked down the street headed toward the rally, which was at her school, 16-year-old Maucieri stopped to talk to her.
“I picked her up on the way,” he said.
He and Joanie married four years later, and in 1960, at age 23, the Army drafted him and the couple moved to where he was stationed in Virginia.
During his two-year stint in the armed forces, Maucieri received orders to go on a temporary duty assignment at Camp Ripley, where he spent a month. It was this temporary assignment that first introduced him to northern Minnesota, which 12 years later he and his family, now including two children, would call home.
Maucieri became involved in more than just the restaurant business in Crosslake. He’s been a member of the Crosslake-Ideal Lions Club since its inception and is a member of the American Legion.
The family operated Echo Ridge from 1974-79, when a propane explosion shut the business down. They re-opened its doors in 1984 and kept it open for another 15 years. In 1998, Joanie suffered a heart attack and died, and one year later, Maucieri sold the building to Zorbaz on the Lake.
In 2006, daughter Dawn told her father she was thinking of opening a restaurant focused on food of their Italian heritage.
“When they said Italian, I wasn’t sure,” Maucieri said. “But it seems to be working.”
His children, Tony Jr. and Dawn, grew up in the business and both are now heavily involved in Maucieri’s. Dawn runs the day-to-day operations of the restaurant and tends bar, and Tony Jr. is charged with the catering branch of the company, which works with the Pine Peaks Event Center in addition to their own catered events.
When he’s not at the restaurant, Maucieri enjoys watching his grandchildren take part in their varied interests, including hockey, horses and piano. He also loves to golf, although he said its more for the company and fun than his skill.
“If I didn’t enjoy it, I probably wouldn’t do it, because I’d get mad and throw the club,” he said.
It’s difficult to imagine Maucieri tousling with a golf club, however; he prides himself on his easygoing nature and said he loves life.
“I enjoy talking to people,” he said. “That’s why I’m in this business.”
Chelsey Perkins can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her at facebook.com/PEJChelsey and on Twitter @PEJ_Chelsey.