Forks in the Road: The Vona family’s long tradition includes meals and heels

Mary and Tom Vona, seen above, were part of a pasta dynasty that continues to this day, writes John Sullivan in this month’s column

What does spaghetti have to do with shoestrings?

If you are from Oswego, NY, you can easily tie the two together with one word, one name: Vona.

The Vona family has since 1947 operated Vona’s restaurant on West Utica Street, founded by Tom Vona. His two brothers, John and Ange (Zeke), operated Vona’s shoe store for many years, located where Bistro 197 now sits in the heart of downtown Oswego. The Vona brothers were prodigious contributors to the Oswego community in a variety of ways, and their progeny carries on that spirit.

Vona’s restaurant was the joint venture of Tom and Mary Vona after the end of World War II, and continues to be run by the family even to this day. The original restaurant was tucked in behind the Utica Street rail yards, fronting on Willow Street. A small bar and a few tables led to an expansion in the 1960’s to Utica Street, with a parking lot and a party room, and later another dining room addition to the west. Vona’s was probably singularly famous for its pizza. Even today, the abundant servings of garlic pizza available in the bar are still one of the restaurant’s staples. With the retirement of Tom and Mary in the 1970s, the business continued to be managed by Joey Vona Occhino and her husband, Murphy, along with Augie Vona and Tom (Junior) and his wife, Mary Jane (Canale). Theirs was the joinder of two families made in pasta paradise.

Augie went on to run his own waterfront restaurant on the east side of Oswego, Admiral Woolsey’s. He died way too early, while Murphy and Joey recently retired. Tom  and Mary Jane and their children continue to operate the original Vona’s today. It remains one of my all-time favorite restaurants. It is where I proposed to my wife, and where we spent many happy hours.

Vona’s shoe store, which was located on the east side of West First Street, has been  replaced, but for many years was Oswego’s shoe shopping hub and many happy feet paraded out the door. John and his wife Mary (Boni) Vona had five daughters, Betty McNear (Harry) of NC, Mary Shanley (P. Michael) Oswego, Patricia Dalton (Lawrence) of Rochester, Margaret Whitaker (Danny) of Auburn, Joni Gallagher (William) of Oswego.

Zeke and his wife, Betty, had six daughters: Terry Patterson, of Florida, Denise Trionfero, of Baldwinsville, Mary Louise McGiff, of Liverpool, Loretta (Richard) Avery, Suzanne (Keith) Wolling, of Florida, and Maureen (Dana) Parks, of Sterling.

Happy feet and happy stomachs were the stock in trade of the Vona boys and their progeny.

Who says shoestrings And spaghetti have  little in common?  Tie three families and three generations together, sprinkle a little parmesan cheese, bow-tie the laces and the pasta, and you have a winning combination called Vona.

I can only imagine how proud Zeke Vona would be of the fact that his grandson Atom Avery is the builder of a five-story addition to Oswego’s downtown at West First and Bridge streets. Talk about bootstraps to buildings. The impressive Vona family legacy lives on.

John T. Sullivan is a former Oswego Mayor and the author of three books, “Forks In The Road” parts I and II and an autobiography “Pee Not Your Pants — Memoirs of a small time mayor with big time ideas,” available locally in the river’s end bookstore and online.  His column appears exclusively in The Palladium-Times on the first Thursday of each month.

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