Buon Appetito!

Rocco’s Ristorante, the region’s revered Italian eatery, celebrates 40 years in business

By Molly McClennen

Buon Appetito

When Rocco Muriale moved to Huntington in 1977, bringing with him little more than a love of good food and the desire to start his own restaurant, no one could have predicted he was about to establish a Tri-State landmark that would thrive for four decades — and counting.

After having worked alongside his father and uncle at Muriale’s Restaurant in Fairmont, Rocco made what he describes as the hardest decision of his life: moving away from his family to pursue the vision he had for his own restaurant. Today, Ceredo’s iconic Rocco’s Ristorante remains in the same small building where Rocco started out in 1977, retaining the cozy, homey ambiance it had in its early years when it only seated a few dozen guests.

It was not long after opening that word got out about Rocco’s great food, and guests were lining up outside, waiting for a seat. Or, Rocco would direct them to a bar down the street, where they could have a drink while waiting for a call that their table was ready. In the 1990s, the building next to Rocco’s became available. Despite his booming business, Rocco hesitated before expanding, fearing that, in doing so, the restaurant would lose some of its charm. 

“The place was small, it didn’t have a bar, but that was part of what made it unique,” he says. But, Rocco ultimately decided to add the extra space so he could serve more guests.

The physical expansion is not the only form of growth Rocco’s has seen over the past 40 years. Rocco now packages his home-cooked Italian specialties for sale in grocery stores. More than 60 FoodFair, Kroger, Walmart and IGA stores throughout the region carry Rocco’s frozen lasagna, spaghetti and sauces. Rocco takes pride in providing the same quality in his frozen foods that he does in his restaurant.

Buon Appetito

“I use nothing but the best ingredients I can get,” he says. “That’s the way I got started, and that’s how I continue to work. I am driven by quality, not price. That’s the difference in my frozen food. People may not know why, they may not be able to put their finger on it, but they know it tastes better.”

Rocco attributes his restaurant’s longevity in part to its location in Ceredo, which he says draws guests with its small-town charm. He adds that his staff members, many of whom have worked with him for years, provide excellent service. And, the restaurant provides the consistency guests expect when dining out.

“You can’t have good service one day but not the next. You can’t have good food one day but not the next,” he says. “Because I always try to be in the kitchen, overseeing every dish, I can make sure the food is hot, good and consistent. I make things I like to eat. I figure that if I like it, maybe others will, too.”

Rocco says his greatest accomplishment has been his relationship with his family, who has also been involved in the restaurant. Rocco’s mother, Rose, now 91 years old, is his inspiration as a chef.

“I came from an area where there is a lot of great cooking, a lot of great cooks. My mom forgot more than I ever remembered about cooking,” he says.

For Rocco, the tradition of cooking being a family affair continues today.

Buon Appetito

“My wife Joan has been incredibly supportive through the years. She is at the restaurant every night working hard, welcoming guests and ensuring that everything runs smoothly. People just love Joanie. And I’m pleased that my son, Rocco Jr., and daughter, Sam, now help with the business.”

It’s obvious that Rocco loves what he does and has no plans of stopping.

“I don’t consider this work,” he says. “My whole life has been lucky. I have been blessed.”

Forty years after he moved to Huntington, Rocco’s is the most popular restaurant destination in the Tri-State region. And, if lovers of great Italian food are lucky, the iconic eatery will be around for years to come.

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