Rosie Valentini was known for her red sauce.
She was known for her chicken cacciatore, too, and meatballs that gave her bragging rights with family.
Rosie Valentini ran the kitchen for more than 40 years at Valentini’s Supper Club, a family-run restaurant in Chisholm, Minn., that for decades has served up Italian food while also hosting wedding banquets and meetings among the region’s movers and shakers.
Valentini died last month at age 95, a few days after suffering a heart attack. Her legacy endures as younger relatives continue operating the old restaurant, plus new eateries with the family name in Duluth.
“I was always honored to get a kiss on the cheek from her when I was there,” said Tony Sertich, a former DFL majority leader in the state House of Representatives, who grew up in Chisholm. “She was a fixture, always.”
Rosie Altavilla was born in 1921 in Chisholm. She graduated from Chisholm High School in 1939, and eight years later married Bruno Valentini. His mother, Justina, owned a cafe and adjoining bar in town, and the couple soon found their places in the family business.
Rosie cooked in the kitchen. Bruno ran the bar. It was an institution long before the business took the name Valentini’s Supper Club.
“They really made their bread and butter with lunch pails for the miners,” said Michael Valentini, who is Rosie’s nephew. “Hundreds of miners would drop their pails off at night. Whatever the special for the next day was, that’s what they all had for lunch — they’d pick the pails up in the morning.”
The bar featured a large bell that customers could ring on special occasions to signal they’d buy the next round of drinks. The bell could be heard upstairs in the 24-room hotel that the family ran and that was occupied primarily by longtime residents.
“All of a sudden, while they’re pouring drinks, the side door opens and it was almost reminiscent of the night of the living dead — this whole parade of old-timers would all come down for a free drink,” Michael Valentini recalled. “So, the guy who thought he was buying seven drinks is buying 17 instead.”
In 1967, the family remodeled the cafe and bar into the supper club that still operates today. A few years later, Valentini’s added banquet space, which let the restaurant host weddings and events with up to 450 people.
“Valentini’s was the social hot spot,” Michael Valentini said. “So, when she got done cooking, she’d go out to the bar in the evening — people were around, and they’d sit and chat. That’s what fueled her: family and friends.”
Rosie Valentini attributed her long life to the occasional shot of Patrón tequila, a drink that she gladly accepted with good humor.
“Somebody walks in and hands Rosie a bottle, and she goes: ‘What’s that? Holy water?’ ” said her son, David Valentini, recalling a story told at her funeral. “The guy goes: ‘No, Rosie, that’s tequila.’ And she says: ‘Oh, better yet.’ ”
Valentini’s became a stopping point for local politicians and was often the setting where business and political deals were hashed out. David Valentini said his grandmother was a classmate of John Blatnik, the legendary congressman from the Iron Range who was succeeded by Jim Oberstar, another political legend.
The supper club changed hands about 15 years ago and is now owned and operated by relatives from another branch of the family.
In addition to her son, Rosie Valentini is survived by two daughters, Diana Valentini of Prior Lake and Debra Valentini of Minneapolis, and several grandchildren. Services have been held.