More than a waitress
By: Bob Cudmore
Amsterdam woman was more than a waitress
By Bob Cudmore, Focus on History, Daily Gazette, 04-08-2017
When Orsini’s Royal Restaurant at East Main and Liberty Streets in Amsterdam opened in the 1920s, there were curtains on the booths.
Customers who were not Italian “didn’t quite know how to eat spaghetti,” according to a family member. Patrons embarrassed to be seen eating this unusual ethnic dish closed the curtains when dining on pasta. The Board of Health eventually ordered the curtains removed.
Anthony Orsini, an immigrant from Abruzzi, and his wife Julia Richitelli, born near Naples, started the restaurant, also known as the Royal Lunch, after Anthony learned cooking at Amsterdam’s diners. It was a family business involving sons Ralph, Arthur and Alfred and daughters Mary and Genevieve.
Genevieve was a founder of Psi Chi Phi a high school sorority for Italian girls. After graduating, she worked as a waitress.
Ten cents was a usual tip, and then twenty-five cents became standard. She said a fifty cent tip was remarkable, “We had to wear an apron. We had to wear a decent looking outfit. And we had to be very neat. We had the pencil on a chain.”
When the late Judge Robert Sise was a youngster he went to first Friday communion at St. Mary’s Church, then stopped at Orsini’s for breakfast before school at St. Mary’s Institute. Sise’s parents gave the child money and told Genevieve to supervise. Sise wanted chocolate doughnuts but Genevieve said she made him have toast or oatmeal, “Bob was a little annoyed with me.”
In the Depression, Orsini’s offered a blue-plate special for thirty-five cents that featured meat or fish, mashed potatoes and vegetables. Coffee was five cents. The Strand Theater was across the street and stage performers such as Baby Rose Marie and Buddy Ebsen frequented the restaurant.
Richard Ellers, now living in Ohio, remembers the Orsini meal ticket. Waitresses punched the ticket, which cost $4.50 but was actually worth $5.00 in food.
In the early 1940s, Anthony Orsini relocated the restaurant to Market Street. It was open twenty-four hours a day, with son Ralph handling the overnight shift. There was more room for wedding receptions--a six course Italian meal cost one dollar a plate.
Genevieve married Edward Hartigan in 1944. Hartigan, the son of an Amsterdam police detective, fought with Merrill’s Marauders in the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II. He had been a vaudeville performer, bartender and later worked at the Scotia Naval Depot. He died in 1964.
The Hartigans lived at the corner of Division and Pine Streets and took in boarders, including members of the Rugmakers baseball team and WCSS radio announcers.
Orsini’s Restaurant closed in the 1950s. Anthony Orsini then worked as a cook for Tony Griffin at the Wil-Ton Lanes on Main Street. Later, his son Ralph opened an Orsini’s eatery on Wall Street near the former junior high where students bought French fries in little paper bags.
After Orsini’s closed on Market Street, Genevieve waited on tables at Isabel’s, a family-owned Italian restaurant on West Main Street, and then was a waitress for Pedro Perez at the Elks Club and a lakeside restaurant.
In 1957, she began working for the New York Retirement System, retiring herself in 1974. That year, she married Morris Palombo, a widower who was a food broker. Morris died in 1999.
Genevieve Orsini Hartigan Palombo was 99 when she died on Thursday, February 13, 2014. She had two children, son Michael and daughter Jennifer. Michael died in 1984.
Genevieve also was survived by two step-daughters, Sandra and Carol, plus seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
She enjoyed crocheting, reading, writing, cooking, entertaining, collecting nut crackers and writing letters.