Nazzereno “Nat” Romano was born on November 14. 1896 in the town of Aquila,Italy, in the province of Brucasse, located east of Rome, 80 – 100 miles from the Adriatic Sea. As a young man, he trained in stone masonry and, in the early 1920′s, he fought actively in the resistance against the dictator, Benito Mussolini.
In December 20, 1920, the political tension with Mussolini in Italy had reached such a crescendo that he decided to leave and seek a new life in America—one full of promise, freedom, and success that he could never have visualized in his own country. He was 26 years old when he crossed the Atlantic on the “Madonna”.
After his arrival at Ellis Island he lived in Manchester, Massachusetts with family who were living there. In 1927. He boarded a train in Philadelphia, PA, where he’d been already instructed by his folks to “listen for the Bryn Mawr stop and get off.” There, they would be waiting to meet him.
Six hours passed and there was no Nat. His friends began to wonder what might have happened. Twelve hours later, they received a call. Nat was in Baltimore, MD, stating, “I listened very carefully and, I gotta tell you—that town—’Watch your step’—is a big place ! Every time the train stopped, the Pullman would yell out the name of the town: Springfield! Watch your step! Media! Watch your step!”
By the time of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, Nat was married to Josephine and they had two children, Peter and Cecilia.
The challenges he faced in providing for his family during the great depression were typical of the struggles of many immigrant families in their quest to become an intricate historical part of the “American story.” During the depression, Grandpop Nat lived on Siegel Street in South Philly, and he’d spend his weekends making pizza shells at his home.
Afterward, he’d cart them up in a wagon to the corner of 20th and Siegel, where a relative, “Big Uncle,” owned “The Boston Bakery.” There, Grandpop Nat cooked the pizza, reloaded them onto his wagon and, with his two small children in tow, he’d proceed through the neighborhood streets, shouting, “Pizzolia! Pizzolia!” When a customer would open the front door and yell back in acknowledgement, Nat would send one of the children up to the door with a slice, or two, or the whole pie—to fill their order and their bellies.
In 1938, Nat suffered the death of his loving wife and he was left alone to raise his children. Nat was in the midst of the great depression, could not speak or understand the English language, and yet he was still required to work to support his family. He decided to place the children with his wife’s parents who lived in “The Meadows,” an area which is now the Philadelphia International Airport.
His in-laws had already had 9 children of their own, and Ceil and Pete lived in that crowded environment for 6 years, until Nat was finally able to afford to move them into a small town called Essington, just inside Delaware County, Pa. Nat started up his own pizzeria business selling sold “Tomato Pies” out of a small store front next to the present day County Saving’s Bank.
The Creation of “The Stromboli”
In 1950, Nat created a secret recipe for dough and made new sandwich. He filled this dough with various cheeses, including mozzarella, and a variety of Italian meats. It was then rolled into a log and baked.
Nat’s customers asked what his new sandwich was called. A close friend, William Schofield, who was inspired by the 1950 movie, “Stromboli”, which starred Ingrid Bergman and was directed by Roberto Rossellini, suggested that he call it that. And so Nat’s creation has become known throughout the world as the “Stromboli”.
In 1954, Nat relocated Romano’s to its present location. Here is an original photo of the Romano Pizzeria as it appeared back then. The large plate glass window was replaced in 1977. As Romano’s Pizzaria grew to be known throughout the Southeast Pennsylvania region so the reputation of “The Romano Stromboli” spread as well.
Pete Romano Senior had worked, as a young man, with Nat and took up the family business in 1960. He preserved the secret family recipe for the Stromboli, and gradually expanded his menu to include a variety of Italian cuisines.
When President Clinton came for a speaking engagement in Philadelphia, his staff had heard of Romano’s Pizzeria reputation. So he had the Secret Service order Romano’s Specials for Air Force One. We take special orders every day so this very special order was no problem.
The basic Stromboli has grown with us over time. It has been prepared with various cheeses as well as a large variety of Italian meats, including salami, capicola and vegetables. Throughout, the Romano Stromboli has remained true to the original recipe.
Today Romano’s Pizzeria has become a household name all along the eastern seaboard. The Romano family continues to make “Stromboli” exactly the way Nazzereno did way back in 1950.