Flora “Flo” Consiglio, the matriarch of one of the landmark Wooster Street Sally’s Apizza, died Monday—and the city immediately started mourning as the news traveled fast.
Consiglio died in the afternoon at the Hospital of St. Raphael, according to Bill Celentano, whose funeral home will handle the as-yet unscheduled arrangements. She passed away at 3:30 p.m. due to an illness, according to a family member.
“You’ve lost a legend,” said Theresa Argento, the president of St. Andrew Ladies Society and at 89 still an engine of civic life in Wooster Square’s Italian-American community.
For decades Consiglio and her late husband Sal ran Sally’s Apizza on Wooster Street, which along with Pepe’s drew crowds from around the state to New Haven’s Little Italy neighborhood to wait in lines out the door for fresh brick-oven-baked tomato pies. Garry Trudeau, a regular when he lived on Olive Street in the 1970s, memorialized the restaurant in his Doonesbury strip. Frank Sinatra made a point of stopping by when he was in town, too; his autographed pictured adorned the restaurant’s walls.
Sally’s, which Consiglio’s husband opened in 1938, was known for its thin crust and special sauce. But over the years it was really known more for Consiglio, the warm, omnipresent woman who ran the joint.
To the uninitiated, Flo Consiglo’s sometimes crusty exterior, like her pizza crusts, could surprise. The surprise inevitably turned to unforgettable delight after a first taste.
Within hours of her death Monday evening condolences and the inevitable flood of memories began pouring in over social media networks, phone trees, and in personal conversations.
Lesser known was the Consiglios’ relationship with their neighbors in Wooster Square. They welcomed the Cotto children, for instance, when they became the first Puerto Rican family to move into Wooster Square. They would stop by the restaurant for hot cocoa and hand warmers after school in the winter, then stay for hours. As they grew older they started shoveling the walk after snowstorms; Jose Cotto ended up working in the restaurant for decades, assuming more responsibility over the years. The were among countless neighborhood children who found work with Flo and Sal.
“If you show them respect, then they respect you,” Flo told the old New Haven Independent (print edition) on the occasion of her restaurant’s 50th anniversary in 1988, a year before her husband died and she was left to keep the restaurant going on her own. “If you’re nice to the kids, they’re nice to you.”
Her fellow family business owners and their patrons along Wooster Street paid their respects in conversations Monday night.
At Libby’s Italian Pastry Shop, JoAnn Dell’Amura predicted the Consiglio family would keep Sally’s going—the way the Dell’Amuras kept Libby’s going.
Dell’Amura’s grandfather Liberato founded Libby’s in 1922. Her father succeeded him in the business. Now the next generation is running it since her dad’s death. JoAnn serves as pastry chef.
“You have to keep it alive,” she said. “All the businesses around here, they all have their matriarch. She [Consiglio] was a lovely lady. She really was. Everyone on the street was very close.”
“In 40 years on this street, I heard all good things about her,” agreed Libby’s cafe manager Tony D’Angelo (pictured). “She was hard-working and very nice.”
And, of course, “she was a character,” said diner named Michael (he declined to give his last name) as he left Pepe’s next door. Michael grew up knowing Flo Consiglio and her family in Westville, where they owned a home. “It’s the end of an era,” he said.
“She made you feel like family,” remarked Giuliana Gioiosa, who was sipping coffee with Theresa Argento Monday night at Libby’s.
Sally’s was closed; a sign said it would remain closed until Oct. 2 for oven repair.
“I feel like a piece of New Haven has died,” Mayor John DeStefano told the Independent Monday night after learning of Consiglio’s passing.
He recalled Consiglio as “incredibly personal about her business, her kids, her customers. She knew them. She knew their family members. She would be sitting there by that booth by the cash register, night after night. She’s just always been part of this city and touched so many, many people.”
“When I met the woman who would become my wife, I brought her to Sally’s. I brought my children there when we had special events. [His son] Danny brought his fiance there to meet Flo. She encouraged it. She made you feel warm and genuine about everything. I’m really sad about Flo. She’s just been terrific to so many people.”
“Our favorite lady, our favorite pizza,” declared former Gov. Lowell Weicker. “Claudia and I have our prayers with the Consiglio family, we love you all.”
Over at Consiglio’s restaurant in New Haven Monday night, Trish Consiglio Perrotti (pictured) said her family was reeling from the news.
“We’re very sad,” she said. Flo Consiglio was “a huge part of this community.” Trish Consiglio Perrotti described herself as “distant” family to Flo—her grandfather and Sal Consiglio’s father were cousins.
Trish Consiglio Perrotti said Flo was always looked out for family and friends.
“She was very warm to family, friends and to regulars,” she recalled. “I guess she was a little tough to strangers.”
Trish’s aunt, 80-year-old Bootsie Consiglio, recalled that decades ago, Flo would help out “kids on the block” who were “destitute.” With her passing, the business is now in the hands of Flo and Sal’s three children, Ruth, Robert and Rick.
“They will keep the business running,” Bootsie Consiglio asserted. “It’s such a landmark. People come from all over to eat at Sally’s.”
Tom Dudchik contributed reporting.