Roman Village president honors restaurants’ past, present

Times-Herald Newspapers

Many boys grow up dreaming of following in their father’s footsteps.

But for Antonio Rugiero Jr., taking the helm of Dearborn favorite Roman Village Cucina Italiana, which his late father, Antonio Rugiero Sr. and mother, Rita, opened in 1964, seemed like a long wait.

“Growing up in the business working with my father, you never really take over because like most Italian fathers, they never retire,” Rugiero said.

So in 1992, Rugiero and his brothers, Patrick, Mark, and Robert, opened Antonio’s Cucina Italiana 26356 Ford Road in Dearborn Heights, to prove to his father that they had what it takes to manage the family restaurant that started with not much more than an award-winning pizza, he said.

On the strength of family recipes the Rugieros brought with them from Italy and a commitment to fresh ingredients, that friendly contest soon grew into a successful restaurant and was later joined by two other branches, in Farmington Hills and Canton Township. When his father died in 2008, Rugiero took over the reigns of that restaurant as well.

Though times have changed, one constant has been quality. Each of Rugiero’s restaurants craft Old World Italian recipes from fresh, homemade ingredients. Diners can watch machines in the dining room churn out fresh pasta and sip coffee from imported Italian espresso machines. Recently, more Italian standards, like creamy gelato have joined handmade gnocchi and fresh-baked breads among the menu’s favorites.

“One of the keys to our success is that we make everthing in house from scratch with simple and fresh ingredients, without any additives or preservitives just like back home,” Rugiero said.

Another staple of the restaurant has been the family’s dedication to its customers, who love to see members of the family in the dining rooms and chat about their dining experiences.

“(Working with family) has its advantages and every now and then its challenges,” Rugiero said, “but you can always count on family.”

And Rugiero and his family is continuing in their efforts to repay their customers’ loyalty with the fresh, authentic Italian fare they’ve loved for decades. They also give back to the communities that supported them through the years with charity events like a Feast of St. Anthony celebration, raising money to provide hot meals to the hungry, and a Casino Royale night contributing to the diabetes research fund at the University of Michigan.

Rugiero said though the recipes are traditional, he keeps an eye to the future with updates to decor, additional imported Italian products, and possible expansion to other locations. His motto, he said, is “tiriamo avanti,’ Italian for “to always move forward.”