Family Traditions: Hard Work And Italian Food When he opened a restaurant nearly 30 years ago, Joe Spano Sr. used the cooking skills he had learned from his mother. The lessons he passed on to his own son have kept the restaurant in business.
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Family Traditions: Hard Work And Italian Food

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Family Traditions: Hard Work And Italian Food

Family Traditions: Hard Work And Italian Food

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And let's go from China's national sport to America's national stories. It is a Friday morning, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. Everyday people are interviewing each other for this project which travels the country. Friends and family talk about their lives. Those conversations are recorded and we hear some of them here. And today we'll hear the story of a family business. Nearly 30 years ago, Joe Spano, Sr. moved from Brooklyn to Texas; he wanted to try his hand in the oil business. When an oil bust in the mid-'80s left him out of a job, Joe decided to open a small Italian restaurant in Abilene. Here he talks with his son Joe, Jr. about those early days.

Mr. JOE SPANO, Sr.: When we opened the restaurant we really didn't know what we were doing. We had some pots and pans from the house and I never cooked anything until we opened that restaurant. I said to myself, my gosh, I don't know how to cook, do I? But I did. And I didn't realize I knew. I learned by watching my grandmother and my mother, and now you're doing it.

Mr. JOE SPANO, Jr.: Now we're feeding a thousand people a week.

Mr. SPANO, Sr.: Yeah, amazing, isn't it? That's a lot of pasta.

Mr. SPANO, Jr.: I never realized before I started working with you, you sure knew how to drew the line between son and employee. And I mean I can remember when I was the first dishwasher at Spano's and I was wondering, why do I have to be the dishwasher?

Mr. SPANO, Sr.: Yeah. I'm the son, I'm supposed to be the executive.

Mr. SPANO, Jr.: Right, I didn't think I was supposed to be the dishwasher.

Mr. SPANO, Sr.: You wanted to be president.

Mr. SPANO, Jr.: Right. I did. I wanted to walk in, I wanted to wear a shirt and tie my first day on the job.

Mr. SPANO, Sr.: But you also saw your dad washing dishes too at that same sink.

Mr. SPANO, Jr.: I don't know if you knew early on that I was going to want to do this forever. I don't know if that was part of it and you were trying to teach me or if you were just doing it because that's way it's supposed to me.

Mr. SPANO, Sr.: No, we were trying to teach you a work ethic; whether you were in a restaurant business or not, I think we did a heck of a job.

Mr. SPANO, Jr.: Right, but it wasn't until started doing it for myself that I realized, okay, this is why they did it the way they did it.

Mr. SPANO, Sr.: Yeah, well, you know, they say the older you get, the smarter your parents get.

Mr. SPANO, Jr.: Yeah, I'm real - now I know. Just this past Friday night, my dishwasher got sick and the guys in the kitchen were busy and I took my coat off and I took my tie off and I put an apron on and I started scrubbing dishes. And I mean the guys in the kitchen, they were amazed. I guess they had never seen the owner scrubbing dishes before.

Mr. SPANO, Sr.: What do you like about the restaurant business? It's not easy, is it?

Mr. SPANO, Jr.: No, but if I hit the lottery tomorrow and never had to work another day in my life, I would not close the restaurant down.

Mr. SPANO, Sr.: Um-hum.

Mr. SPANO, Jr.: Because, you can have all the money in the world, but if you don't do something that has any meaning, I mean, what's the point? When somebody's plate comes back completely empty, that's instant gratification. Or they were starving to death, one of the two, and that makes it all worthwhile. There's no other job like that. You know, at least every day I can make somebody happy.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: That's Joe Spano, Jr. and his father Joe, Sr. at StoryCorps in Abilene, Texas. They're interview will be archived along with all StoryCorps interviews at the Library of Congress. And you can subscribe to this project's podcast simply by going to

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