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Mountain Home Magazine

All That We Needed and Most of What We Wanted

Jun 07, 2019 05:38PM
by Janet McCue


In 1902, Clementine Specchio arrived at Ellis Island. With a toddler in her arms, a suitcase at her side, and a sign reading “Watkins Glen” around her neck, she first boarded a ferry to Manhattan, then took a series of trains headed for the Finger Lakes to join her husband, Dominick Paradiso. Clementine’s arrival in the U.S. heralded a long line of intrepid women. The little two-year-old, Orazio, renamed Horace on Ellis Island and Ratsie in the close-knit Italian-American community on the Flat, grew up to become a baker and the first in a long line of Watkins Glen Paradiso family entrepreneurs. As a young man he trained in Elmira, returning to Watkins Glen to open a series of bakeries, first on 2nd Street, then on 4th Street.

When a fire destroyed the 4th St. bakery and the family’s home on the second floor, Horace, his wife, Angie, and the six children escaped injury. Undeterred by the tragedy, this determined man opened a third bakery on Franklin Street, then the Snack and Shake, and, finally, Paradiso’s Restaurant. Early photos of the bakery, the snack shop, and the restaurant show that they were family affairs, with mom, dad, and children helping out. Jo Pat Wright, one of six siblings in Horace and Angie’s family, remembers working at the restaurant after school, beginning when she was eleven years old. She loved the bustle and the sense of community at the restaurant, as did some of her siblings; others were eager to escape the family business and establish their own careers. When Horace was no longer able to manage the restaurant, son Jim took over in 1963, running the restaurant for thirty-four years.

Like Jim and Jo Pat, brother Paul worked summers and after school in the snack shop and the restaurant. It was here that he fell in love with another future baker, Carole Bierline. Paul left the family business to become a banker while Carole, a claims adjuster by day, became a baker by night. For nearly a decade, Carole’s cheesecakes were on the menus of Seneca Lodge in Watkins Glen, Pierce’s in Elmira, and Turback’s in Ithaca. Her two daughters, Kathy and Margaret, were her helpers. Beginning with an apprenticeship on her Easy-Bake Oven, Kathy made daily batches of brownies for her family, eventually graduating to folding boxes for mom’s cheesecakes.

It’s not surprising now to find Kathy pulling almond, lemon, and vanilla cheesecakes out of her commercial ovens at Paradiso’s Village Bakery at 320 W. Main Street in Montour Falls. She’s using mom’s secret recipe. Kathy also puts her baking talents to work on specialty breads, following mom’s butter bran bread recipe, and showcasing her own culinary talents in delicious chicken pot pies and cinnamon babka bread. Her husband, Bill, is the chief bread baker and son, Josh Moll, the head cook. Are we startled to find Paradiso’s Village Bakery (less than three miles from the former Paradiso’s, now the site of Bleachers Bar and Grill in Watkins Glen) a family affair?

In the intervening 100-plus years since Dominick, Clementine, and Orazio arrived in Watkins Glen, generations of locals and tourists have enjoyed the flavors at one of the Paradiso establishments. Kathy, the most recent Paradiso generation to enter into the family business, first detoured into a nursing career for several decades—a skill that helped her care for her father, Paul, in his last years. Kathy once shared her dream with her father, telling him, “someday, I’m going to open a bakery.” Without skipping a beat, he proclaimed, “And I’m going to be your greeter. I’m going to bring everyone in, help them find a seat and when they ask ‘what’s good?’ I’ll tell them ‘everything!’”

Although her father passed away in 2018, having made the decision early on not to follow his father, Horace, into the restaurant business, Paul’s presence is seen and felt in the bakery. Family photos adorn the walls and the menu—a gallery of ancestors welcoming you into Paradiso’s Village Bakery. One poignant photo captures Horace, dressed in his white baking uniform, holding his newborn son, Paul, in his arms. According to Aunt Jo Pat, “everyone, starting with my father [Horace], who pursued their own business was successful.” She can speak from experience, since it was she and her husband, Jack, who ran Wright’s Liquor Store for thirty-two years. She sees her niece having those same family talents—an intrepid nature, a culinary passion, an entrepreneurial drive, and a community spirit.

“Kathryn is living up to the path that was laid before her. Like her father, who was very community oriented, Kathy has that same spirit,” says Kathy’s aunt.

Paul was most proud of his role in Watkins Glen Tomorrow, a successful initiative that spurred development of the waterfront and pier in Watkins Glen. Aunt Jo Pat proudly points out that her niece donates rolls to local food banks. She hosts preschool children on excursions to learn about bakeries, and Boy Scouts focused on earning new merit badges by using weights, measures, and ingredients in a pizza making event. Kathy says that her parents gave their children “all that we needed and most of what we wanted.” What better legacy could parents bestow on their offspring?