After leaving Harmon General Hospital in Texas, Anthony Zanghi was transferred back to Fort Dix, New Jersey. On Dec. 21, 1944, while on a weekend leave, Tony went with some friends to the old Van Buren Bay Inn (next to the Van Buren Drive Inn). They met some girls. One of them, Josephine LaSpada, was "the cutest girl (he) had ever seen." It was love at first sight and Tony and "Spitty," Josephine's nickname, were married on June 15, 1946, at Holy Trinity Church on Ruggles Street, just down the street from Spitty's home. Their reception was at the original Colonial Inn in Fredonia, across from the intersection of Main and Eagle streets. The inn was torn down in the late 1960s to build a bank.
Before entering the Army, Tony was a foreman for the New York Central Rail Road. In his youth, and long into adulthood, Tony was very strong with amazingly straight posture. One friend described him as "rock and steel." One day, as a story goes, there was a section of railroad rail, about 3 1/2 feet long, that was being discarded. Tony, never one to waste anything, thought that there must be some use for it, so he picked it up and carried it home (railroad rails weigh about 45 pounds per foot).
Tony continued to work for the railroad for a short time after he and Josephine were married, but in 1949 he took a leap of faith that would change his life forever. Tony's father-in-law, Dominick LaSpada, owned several gardening plots on Brigham Road. At that time there were only a few homes on all of Brigham Road, but there was a growing neighborhood in the area between Woodrow and McKinley avenues and Fourth and Seventh streets - and it needed a grocery store. At the urging of neighbors and with the backing of his father-in-law, Tony opened the Brigham Food Mart on two of Dominic's lots. The store was built by John Trippi, who had the distinction of being the store's first customer. A few years later, Tony and his brother-in-law, Tony LaSpada, expanded the store to include a meat department. Tony LaSpada was the store's first butcher.
Anthony Zanghi, U.S. Army combat engineer
When Tony Zanghi opened the Brigham Food Mart, neighborhood grocery stores were a way of life. There were dozens of them throughout Dunkirk. The owners were a cooperative and friendly group that supported each other and shared information. When he started his business, Tony recalled receiving pointers from Tony Mancuso, who owned The Pantry on 6th Street, and Stanley Fedyszyn, of Fedyszyn's on Lake Shore Drive.
Over the years Tony Zanghi made tons of Italian sausage and cut thousands of pork chops. He sold barrels and barrels of Italian olive salad, made by his mother-in-law Palma LaSpada, and filled countless bags of groceries. But it was the relationships with customers, neighbors and vendors that made Tony and his store special.
A story that Tony's son Joe recalls illustrates the neighborliness that was characteristic during the early days in business. In those days Brigham Food Mart sponsored a bowling team that bowled at the old Columbus Club on Third Street. Tony was also a bowler on the team. Occasionally he would bring team shirts home to wash in an old wringer washer in the basement of the store. "One morning," Joe recalls, "when I was about four years old, I wandered down to the basement and curiosity got the best of me. I climbed up the side of the washer to see what was inside and put my hand on the wringer to help pull myself up. I slipped and my arm was suddenly pulled into the wringer. I called for my dad and he ran downstairs, hit the pressure release knob, and removed my arm from the wringer. He had to rush me to the Emergency Room at Brooks Hospital. At that moment there was no one in the store, except for John Catalano, the Briggs Dairy milk man. Without hesitation from either of them, John said that he would watch the store while my dad rushed me to the hospital."
Each of Tony's children, Joe, Palma, Tony, and John, as well as Joe's girlfriend and future wife, Patty, worked in the store. The kids fondly recall the store as a central part of their lives. The best part of working in the store was spending time with their dad and talking with customers. There were loyal customers from the neighborhood and as far away as Brocton, who would come in to buy a few pounds of sausage, or just a pack of gum, and end up talking for hours. Other steady customers were the half-minute variety; the ones that were in and out as fast as you could handle them. Joe recalls the guys from the steel plant. In those days a noon whistle would sound at the plants on Lucas Avenue and Brigham Road. Within minutes the store parking lot would be jammed with cars filled with workers coming in to buy quarts of beer to have with their lunches!
Christmas was one of the most memorable times of the year, especially Christmas Eve. Tony would take sausage orders for weeks, starting around Thanksgiving. Then, during the last few days before Christmas, he worked feverishly to make hundreds of pounds of his specialty. Christmas Eve was a bustle of activity, with customers picking up their sausage orders and wishing each other a happy holiday. On Christmas morning Tony would reward the family member who came closest to guessing the previous day's receipts with a crisp twenty dollar bill.
In addition to the family, Tony hired local high school students and neighbors to help in the store. His first high school employee was a football and basketball player from Cardinal Mindszenty named Bob Muscato, who later became Mindszenty's Head Coach. The many other employees included a quarterback/roundballer from Dunkirk named Doug Derider, a basketball star from Dunkirk named Phil Julian and a Cardinal Mindszenty/Fredonia State basketball great named Jerry Tramuta.
The store was a gathering place for neighborhood kids whose parents would often call asking, "Tony, is my kid there?" On hot summer evenings in the 1960s local athletes from Dunkirk and Mindszenty would play pick-up basketball games at the old Athletic Field, where the high school now stands. They would then come to the store, hungry and thirsty, to buy pop and chips. It wasn't unusual to have eight or 10 local stars like Dick Harvey, Tom Dillenburg, Mike Tramuta and Phil Julian sitting outside the store quenching their thirst after a game.
The Brigham Food Mart remained open until 1980 when Parkinson's Disease, which plagued Tony for several years, made it impossible for him to continue. Tony and Josephine are both remembered as heroes by their children and their loyal customers. They also have nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, who, through memories and stories, concur that their grandpa was a hero.
Tony Zanghi would have been 97 years old on Oct. 1, or would it have been on Sept. 30?