The “Mayor of Wooster Square” accepted accolades in the booth of the pasticceria where about 90 years before she helped to make the best zuppa inglese in all of New England.
That “mayor” is Luisa DeLauro. And that memory emerged at the 100th birthday party for DeLauro, a living legend of New Haven politics.
The longest-serving alderperson in the city’s history, DeLauro is also the mom of U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who presided over the festivities Friday evening at Consiglio’s Restaurant on Wooster Street.
The building long ago housed the Canestri Pastry Shop.Luisa’s mother, also named Luisa, and her husband Cesare Canestri, established the shop in around 1914 and ran it until 1959.
Friday night’s birthday party was full of warmth, hugs, family and election history, tortellini, and cannoli.
Family members only—and there were a lot—congratulated DeLauro between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Then the doors of Consiglio’s opened, and for the next three hours it seemed as if all New Haven, or at least 300 friends, admirers, and politicos across five generations of New Haven politics, came to say congratulation and to take a photograph with “Mayor” DeLauro.
Luisa Delauro was formally elected to the New Haven Board of Aldermen in 1965 for an historic run that lasted 35 years. Before that, she had already made a reputation as a go-to fighter for her neighbors in the immigrant Italian community of New Haven that was establishing itself in Wooster Square in the 1920s and ‘30s.
It was “constituent service” avant le lettre, according to state Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney.
“She was a model of constituent service. She knew every street and house in the ward. She was in effect the embodiment of the community,” and set a model for other aldermen, Looney added.
Click here for a story about DeLauro’s most recent red-letter occasion, when the corner of Chapel and Academy was monikered in her honor.
She was also an early feminist, setting an example for her daughter Rosa. In remarks Friday evening, Rosa DeLauro quoted from a speech written by her mom in Renaissance, the bi-monthly publication of the old 10th Ward’s “Young Men’s Democratic Club.”
It concludes: “Come on, girls, let’s make ourselves heard.”
That remark also decorated the birthday cake (pictured), which featured photos familial and political in which many of the party-goers could see themselves.
“This place is where it all began. This is my grandmother’s pasticceria. [This] is such a milestone. It’s a marvel. They [Luisa and husband Ted DeLauro] knocked on doors and elected mayors. When I ran for office, most people thought they were voting for her,” said Rep. DeLauro.
Networking politicians old and new sampled the olives, took in the continuous loop of DeLauro photos projected on the wall, and offered congrats and roses to Luisa DeLauro. She meanwhile held court in the corner on the far wall, where a line-up of DeLauro female cousins sat and observed the scene with an “I’ve seen this before” seriousness in their gazes.
Among them were Louisa Canestri Cusano (pictured), age 97, and her friend Louise Amato. It was hard to find any woman over 60 not named some variant of Luisa.
“The Canestris made the best zuppa inglese in all New England,” said Mary Schnabel, Cusano’s daughter. She and especially her mom remembered details of the pastry shop, its counter location [where the women were now sitting], and the booths for pastry and coffee-klatching in the far corner, where the star of the party was now holding court.
But they were unsure of the year Canestri Pastry Shop began. Was it in the 1920s or before?
Over came Rep. DeLauro, summoned by the local historians, to try to hone in on the date.
“Cesare Canestri, my grandfather, died in 1918 from the influenza epidemic,” she said.
That left the grandmother, Luisa, to raise Luisa and her five siblings alone. Rep. DeLauro remembered her mom saying that she lost her father when she was 4. As she was born in 1914, that checked out. But was the pastry shop already established by 1918?
Rep. DeLauro had to hug and greet so many well-wishers of her mother’s there was no time to continue the research.
Before going to her duties, she did add, “All the people here [in those first generations from Italy] worked at Sargent’s or Winchester. My grandmother worked in the primer room at Winchester [Repeating Arms] Company. They let her out when she became pregnant.”
Before she rejoined her other guests, Rep. DeLauro recalled one more family story: Her grandfather Cesare, who worked at Sargent, said to his wife Luisa, “All the locks at Sargent’s could never make you safe enough for me.”