Capri Pizza co-founder remembered as caring mother, community provider
Maria Annunziata Varrasso of Shaler was known as a generous, hard-working woman who made sure no one went hungry.
Co-founder of Capri Pizza in Homestead with her husband, Mauro, the Italian immigrant taught family traditions to all who’d listen.
“She was always a hard worker,” son Pasquale Varrasso said. “She always put everyone in front of herself in everything she did. She treated everyone like family. It didn’t matter who you were or what you did.”
Born Nov. 7, 1956 in Maierato, Italy. She immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1974.
Pasquale said her middle name translated to “Nancy,” so that’s what his mother went by. He said it helped separate her from the other Maria’s in the family.
Pasquale and his sister, Isolina, both of Shaler, recalled making homemade sauce, bread, pasta and other foods.
“A lot of those things that she did back in Italy, she taught us here to keep the tradition alive,” the son said.
They would go to a farm and pick bushels of tomatoes and have a family gathering with aunts and cousins to make sauce.
“She made a home for us and made a home for the community,” Isolina Varrasso said. “Words cannot describe how she was. She always made sure that family came first before anyone else in life. She was an awesome mom.”
Those meals would go far beyond the family dinner table.
The Varrassos opened up shop along Eighth Avenue in Homestead in October 1986 and moved to Amity Street in 1992.
They participated for years in the borough’s annual October block party along Ninth Avenue near Rainbow Kitchen Community Services.
“That little Nancy was like a fire bug,” Rainbow Kitchen Program Coordinator Marlene “Pumpkin” Murphy said. “I just loved her to death. She was a beautiful person inside and out, treated everybody the same, loved kids, loved little people and was a community person.”
Mrs. Varrasso also took part in the Salvation Army’s Homestead branch’s teen recreation programs.
Murphy, a former Salvation Army program coordinator, said Mrs. Varrasso would bring dough and teach youths how to make pizza and did not take kindly to sass talk.
“Sometimes you might have a smart mouth with Nancy, and she’d let you know that smart mouth didn’t work there,” Murphy said. “She would have a wooden spoon and stand toe to toe with those big guys.”
The family sold the pizza shop February 2013. It’s still open and managed by relatives.
Not only did Mrs. Varrasso help provide for her children and community, she was a match maker.
Former Capri Pizza vendor Eugenio De Iuliis, 44, of North Hills said she introduced him to her niece, Antonella, in 2009. They would go on to marry and have four children.
“For the longest time, I was very hesitant,” De Iuliis said about meeting Antonella. “Coming from an Italian family, you don’t want to screw up business. I finally agreed to meet her and the rest was history. My wife was kind of hesitant also and (Nancy) kept telling her, ‘You never know until you try.’ You never realize how one person can affect your life. I never really understood that until I met her. (Nancy) was a blessing. By far, she truly was.”
Maria Varrasso died Sept. 3 from endometrial cancer. She was 61.
Visitation is scheduled from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Perman Funeral Home and Cremation Services Inc., 923 Saxonburg Blvd. in Shaler. Mass of Christian Burial is set for 11:30 a.m. Friday at St. Raphael Church in Morningside.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter @MikeJdiVittorio.