“Alright guys. Time to go home.”
That’s what Silvio Fabbri would have said about the closing after nearly four decades of his iconic Fair Haven pizzeria, restaurant and hangout, Umberto’s, his son Anthony mused in a chat with R-FH Retro early in March.
The embracing hometown haven, in operation since Jan. 4, 1984, with the Fabbri family always somewhere at the helm, was set to close its doors at 10 p.m. on March 28.
They were hoping for a great gathering of community and friends to see them off as they turned out the lights and locked the doors of their Fair Haven “home” for the last time. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the goodbye can’t be quite like that. It’s a bit empty. No gatherings. No handshakes. No hugs. Hearts are full, though, and retain every bit of “home” to keep them full for the Fabbri family.
Yes, “time to go home.” But, what happens when you are already home?
Umberto’s was home. Silvio Fabbri and his family made it their home. They made it their patrons’ home, too. Silvio became an icon to many a Fair Haven kid whose bike could be seen parked there after school, panting garlic knot and pizza breath with every eager pedal “home” for what was likely their second dinner. And they likely passed their parents on the road as they fetched that dinner from Umberto’s, Silvio having memorized their names and orders by heart.
Yes, the place was “home” for many. Silvio, always calm and cool, with a side-mouthed grin, greeting his many mischievous cherubs at the counter with a pizza flip, hand sign and a “Eyyyy … Hanga loose.” And like a parent, he’d often call you out if you hadn’t been in to see him in a while with a “Eyyyy. Why you no come a see me?”
So, in listening to the voice of Silvio in their hearts, the Fabbri family, while they know his posthumous “time to go home” is a consoling, take-it-in-stride push out the door, “home” was always Fair Haven for the Shrewsbury family — at least since 1984 when they came to town to run the place owned by Umberto and Dora Areno, thus the Umberto name.
While many initially thought that the Fabbri’s last name was Umberto, it was not. The name comes from the owner of the brick-and-mortar part of the business — the building. The Arenos also owned the business (part of it all) for the first seven years of the Fabbri family’s time working there — bringing their authentic Italian pizza- and food-making skills directly from “the foothills of Napoli” — running things. They had come to America in 1976.
It was on Nov. 26, 1991 that Silvio and his brother Michele (Michael in Italian) signed to papers to buy the business itself (not the building). They have rented the building from its owners since. Ironically, Silvio’s wife Maryrose pointed out, “Silvio died on Nov. 26, 2014.” An opening and closing date for Silvio. Called home, as they say.
Home. It means something different to everyone. But, what it means to Maryrose Fabbri is a matter of the heart and the power of place in that heart, too. She feels confident it was what was in her husband’s heart all those years, too. Home.
“We didn’t become millionaires with this business,” she said earlier in the month. “We didn’t become financially rich. But we got rich with the heart knowing so many different people here (considering them) and having them all here as our family.
“We joke about our houses in Shrewsbury. We sleep and shower there. But Fair Haven is where we live. The boys did all of their recreational sports, summer camp, everything here. Fair Haven is our home.”
She went on to say that Anthony, who took over running the business with her and uncle Michele after his dad (Silvio) died, wasn’t even 2 when he first came to know Umberto’s and Fair Haven as home. The rest, like Maryrose’s nephew Tony and Anthony’s children, were “born there,” so to speak, she said. It was home. Always.
In just about every home, there are family recipes, too. Family traditions.
Anthony, Maryrose and Michele and the rest of the Umberto’s Fabbri family are sad to leave home. Still, they smile as they say that while they do not want to reveal the new owners’ names, Silvio’s pizza will come with them — a comfort of home.
After coming to the sad reality that they could no longer afford the rent, but bearing no malice whatsoever, and vetting several offers, they sold the business to “a couple of really nice guys who Silvio taught to make pizza,” Maryrose said.
That much they were happy to say. Their fear and resistance in announcing the new ownership was, they said, that people might jump to unwarranted conclusions and would not give them the chance they deserve.
“We just want everyone to welcome them and give them a chance,” Maryrose said. “They truly are great guys. And they’re bringing Silvio’s pizza with them.”
They are also bringing their own great chicken wing recipe. In fact, it’s the same one people to which those who eat at Umberto’s have become accustomed. Silvio “taught them how to make pizza and they taught him how to make chicken wings,” Anthony said.
And there’s nothing like swapping a family recipe from one home to another. Tradition is a comfort recipe. It lives on, more so in this case, as the Fabbri family chose it to be so.
As for home and hearth stories, Maryrose said with a content smile, “there are just too many to talk about. So many. But, everyone knows one or a few to keep in their heart like we do.” And the visits and goodbyes … Coincidentally their very first customer, Matt from Acme, popped in, unbeknownst to anyone, while R-FH Retro was visiting. Then came a former Fair Haven neighbor (of this 54-year resident) and coffee shop icon, Trudi Williams. Moments. Family. Home.
And as with any home, someone is always there to lead the start of the day and end it. Usually, it was Silvio. Now Maryrose. “I’m the first one (now) who walks in the door, usually at 9:45 a.m.” she said. “And I’m the last to walk out. I make sure everyone walks out first before me. Sometimes that’s been 11:30 at night.”
So, on March 28 at 8 p.m., instead of the usual 10, the time it was supposed to happen, the lights went out and the door of Umberto’s was locked for the last time.
“Time to go home,” where your heart is, and “hanga loose forever.”
Thank you, Fabbri family, for bringing the true meaning of community “home” for all of us and our children. There’s no place like it … that slice of life in our hearts.
— Photos/Elaine Van Develde, exclusively for R-FH Retro
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