Iconic Charleroi eatery – Rego's – changes hands
Orlando “Tito” Giorgi remembers the busy Saturday nights in Charleroi when it was hard to walk down the street, let alone find a table in the “city's” magical restaurant.
When the four downtown movie houses let out at 11 p.m. following the late showings, people would crowd into Rego's. The restaurant remained open until midnight to serve the customers.
“Even in the day, they would be waiting for a table,” Tito Giorgi recalled.
Charleroi's iconic place to dine for the past 64 years, Rego's recently changed ownership. Nino Giorgi, Tito's son, recently sold the eatery to Evonne and Eric Henderson of Fallowfield Township. But the mainstay at the corner of Sixth Street and McKean Avenue will remain, including its stable of veteran employees and the famous cuisine.
The restaurant is a throwback to its roots.
Born in Italy and raised in Charleroi, Tito Giorgi flew C-47 Skytrain transport planes for the Army Air Corps during World War II, dropping paratroopers with the 101st Airborne over Normandy during D-Day and taking part in the Battle of the Bulge.
After leaving the service, he operated the Washington Importing Co. with his brother, Rego.
But the owner of a restaurant near Sixth Street and McKean Avenue wanted to get out of the business, so Tito and Rego Giorgi sold their grocery business in Washington, Pa., and bought the restaurant with one caveat – that Tito's mother-in-law, Julia Nesti, do the cooking.
“That's the reason I married her,” Tito said with a laugh, nodding to his wife of 67 years, Lorainne.
“Her mother was a beautiful cook.”
The business grew overnight, Lorraine Giorgi said.
“Once they tried our food, word of mouth grew the business,” she said.
But their dream business met disaster two days after Christmas in 1969.
“I closed at 1 a.m. and went home,” Tito recalled. “Fifteen minutes later, someone called and said, ‘Your restaurant is on fire.'”
To this date, the fire's cause remains a mystery. But Tito believes it was arson. Most of the building was destroyed – except for the kitchen.
Ed Paluso was a naval pilot. But when his parents took ill, he left the service to come back and operate their restaurant. But by 1969, he had grown to hate the work and wanted to get out of the business. His restaurant was located across from the Giorgi's charred eatery.
The Giorgi brothers agreed to take over the restaurant storefront, provided Paluso remodel the kitchen, adding 10 feet to its length. The new owners modernized the electrical and air conditioning systems, installed new carpeting and added a new roof.
“We did business like this,” Tito Giorgi said, extending his right hand. “We didn't need lawyers. We shook hands.”
Paluso traded pots and pans for politics. Within two years, Paluso was elected to the Washington County Board of Commissioners, a post he held for a record 20 years. He served as mayor of Charleroi from 1993 to 2005.
At the time the Giorgis were seeking a name for the restaurant, Marshall Tito was the communist leader of Yugoslavia. So they chose Rego's forename.
“Rego had a better sounding name,” his brother admitted.
Rego's renowned Italian cuisine attracted famous customers, such as classical pianist Liberace, Pittsburgh Pirates announcer Bob Prince, Country crooner Mel Tillis, and original Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney Sr. Many entertainers who performed at the Twin Coaches in Rostraver Township would leave the dinner club after their shows to eat at Rego's.
Some of their photographs, along with snapshots of scores of regular customers, cover the walls of Rego's lounge.
“We've had customers from all over the world,” Lorraine Giorgi said.
“One woman, Maureen McCormick from California, asked for our recipe for bagna calda and garlic toast.”
An appetizer staple at Rego's, bagna calda is a strongly flavored garlic- and sardine-based dip.
Tito Giorgi operated Rego's until his brother retired in 1976. Tito's son and daughter-in-law, Nino and Vicky Giorgi took over the business.
Nino Giorgi explained his decision to get out of the business he's operated for 36 years.
“You just have a feeling when the time is right,” Nino Giorgi said. “I turned 66 this year. I felt the time is right.”
Evonne Henderson said purchasing Rego's is a dream realized.
“This was always a dream – something I wanted to do – and I couldn't pass it up,” Henderson said.
Evonne Henderson said her mom, a Rego's employee of 13 years, told her the restaurant was on the selling block.
“So I went to bed and thought about it,” Evonne Henderson said. “In the morning, I said ‘That's something I'm interested in.'”
Henderson said she wants to reassure the restaurant's legion of loyal customers that “everything will remain the same.” That includes the name, the employees and the menus.
“We're so fortunate the people who purchased the place wanted to keep it local, staying in the same location,” Tito Giorgi said.
Nino Giorgi thanked his loyal customers.
“We appreciate all of the patrons who have come to our restaurant to eat over the years,” Nino Giorgi said. “The new owners are enthusiastic. I believe they will continue the tradition of Rego's in the future.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.