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Nestled among the volumes of Long Island City’s industrial history is the story of one immigrant who made good on his dreams and built a family-owned pasta empire that lasted for nearly 70 years and of one descendant eager to keep the legacy alive in Queens.
Ronzoni Macaroni operated out of three buildings in the Queens neighborhood between 1915 and 1993, and until 1984 it was owned by the descendants of its founder, Emanuele Ronzoni.
The company has since been sold and moved to Virginia, but one member of the Ronzoni family, Al Ronzoni, lives in Astoria.
Al Ronzoni, 45, remembers growing up with the family business in the 1970s.
“They were training me the same way they trained all the generations,” he said at a lecture at the Greater Astoria Historical Society last week. “My first day of work %u2026 they gave me one of those hats with a net, and they gave me a broom and a dust pail and told me to sweep the floor.”
By the 1970s, Ronzoni had grown from a small factory on Vernon Boulevard to a larger one near the Queensboro Bridge to a massive facility at 50-02 Northern Blvd. It had become the No. 1 pasta company in the greater New York area and had a share of the market in all 50 states.
But as the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, a changing market placed Ronzoni in jeopardy.
Italian macaroni companies, bolstered by subsidies from the Italian government, began offering their products at competitive or cheaper prices. At the same time, major food conglomerates began showing an interest in pasta.
After years of mulling it over, the family agreed to sell their company to General Foods Corp. in 1984. General Foods later sold Ronzoni to Hershey, which closed the Long Island City plant in 1993 and moved production to Virginia.
Al Ronzoni has mixed feelings about the sale of the company, noting it freed him up to pursue a career in the financial sector.
“By not having it, you enable people to go on to different areas where maybe they’re better suited,” he said. “But on the other hand, you’ve lost this thing that was built up over generations, something that I think we’re all proud of.”
The Ronzonis were not the only ones who appreciated the business.
Historical society member Debbie Van Cura grew up two blocks away from the Ronzoni plant on Northern and lived across the street when the building was torn down in 1998 to make way for a Home Depot.
“I loved the sound of the machinery at night,” she said. “There was nothing that did more for me than listening to that hum, that was so peaceful to me. And when they closed the plant, I was devastated.”
Van Cura led the society’s efforts to preserve the letters from the Ronzoni sign. Group members actually borrowed a hearse from the funeral home downstairs to pick up the letters as the construction workers removed them.
The “R” from the sign is currently on display at the society’s headquarters, 35-20 Broadway, where Al Ronzoni periodically lectures — and occasionally confesses.
“Over the years I’ve switched to whole grain pasta, and my father gets upset with me sometimes,” he joked at last week’s presentation. “That’s what I look for when I go to the store now.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4564
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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