By: Tara Ambrose
The year was 1964 -Gene Bruscato had a vision of opening a bar-b-que eatery and serving up copious amounts of his signature “Millionaire Bar-Be-Que Sauce – The Aristocrat of Them All”, but that is not what fate was wishing to dish up.
Local grocery store businessman, Gene Bruscato and his wife Rosa Lee Monaco Bruscato had a family grocery store that had been passed down from Gene’s parents, Frank and Benedetta Bruscato, and it was in this grocery store that the Bruscato family worked and grew strong family roots into the community in Monroe, Louisiana.“That’s how I grew up – helping my grandparents in the grocery stores”, Phyllis Bruscato Candella says as she leans back with her arm draped over the chair in the private nook we sat in, “I was 19 and Frank was 15 when Mother and Daddy opened Geno’s” Phyllis continues on as she excuses herself every few moments to seat, hug and greet each customer she sees walking through the door.
“Dad was a businessman but he loved to cook”, Frank Bruscato says as he takes his place across the table from me – “He (Dad) had the family grocery store that he took over from his parents – but he always loved to cook.” As Frank continued on, Phyllis went and gathered one of Gene’s bar-be-que sauce bottles and hands it to me across the table as Frank tells me about the history behind the bottle and even offers that the location where the wonderful Warehouse No. 1 Restaurant is now located was the storage space for Gene’s bottles prior to being filled with his signature bar-be-que sauce.
As a member of the community, Gene readily gave back to his community volunteering with the Knights of Columbus, cooking for fundraisers and helping out the community as a whole.
“Come dinner time, everyone came to our house to eat because they knew Mother and Daddy always cooked”, Phyllis laments with a charming smile on her face and a giggle in her voice. “They all called Daddy “Geno”, and although my name is Phyllis Jean, the strong ties to our Italian heritage and me being named after my Grandmother on Mother’s side (Mrs. Felice E. Monaco), when someone would call me just Phyllis… Daddy would say my name is Phyllis JEAN… and when I was a teenager I would laugh with Daddy and say, Oh, I’m Phyllis GENO!” I couldn’t help but grin from ear to ear listening to Frank and Phyllis talk about their family, how close it is and how even Frank’s son, John Bruscato (now attorney John Bruscato) began helping the family out in the restaurant when he was only 10 years old.
“We did all jobs”, Phyllis says “Whoever didn’t show up for work that day… that’s the job we did. Mother and Daddy gave us a great work ethic, and that’s one of the things that I have always admired most about them.”
Frank and Phyllis have been at the helm of Geno’s since roughly 1978 when Gene and Rosa Lee retired. As a graduate of Northeast Louisiana University (now ULM), Frank joined the United States Army as a Second Lieutenant and retired fully in 1992 as a Lieutenant Colonel, so Frank was no stranger to hard work and indefatigable integrity.
Opened in the real estate office that belonged to Gene and Rosa Lee Bruscato, Frank recalls when he and his dad built the patio (that is now a place of grand enjoyment and where many memories and proposals have been made over the years). “It was a place that people could enjoy themselves in a family atmosphere”, Frank says.
Pressing forward, “Gary the Gastronaut” and I could barely withstand the veritable feast that had been placed before us – scratch lasagna with Geno’s signature marinara sauce and house-made Italian sausage, crawfish fettuccine alfredo and their tantalizing garlic bread, but I had to inquire just one more question of this phenomenal brother-sister duo… just what dish was their favorite dish, and with her hand nestled around the bottom of her chin, and with a moment’s hesitation only, “Lasagna, I LOVE the lasagna – I could eat it every day, and have been known to do so”, Phyllis says with a laugh that warms your heart. But, I couldn’t leave this wonderful eatery without also inquiring of Frank the same query, and as he looked at me through his glasses, adjusting them ever so slightly for a firmer fit, he says, “The Rigatoni with meatballs – but, I like the meatballs and lasagna too.”
Bidding the Bruscato family farewell felt as though I was leaving the home of my family, which is no surprise since walking through the doors of Geno’s is as welcoming and inviting as going home.
*Photographed are Frank Bruscato and Phyllis Bruscato Candella in front of their former family home, which are now the banquet rooms and catering areas of Geno’s.
*Notes: The plural reference to grocery store(s) is because both Maternal and Paternal grandparents owned local grocery stores. Bruscato Grocery was owned by Dad’s (Gene) parents – Frank and Benedetta Bruscato. This was later called “Gene Bruscato’s Grocery”. Their Mother’s parents – Felice E. Monaco and Rocko Monaco also owned a grocery store, so this was the reference to plural groceries.
“Monga” is a term that was used by the Bruscato and Monaco family; it is Italian for “eat”.
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