End of an era for family-owned Papa Leone’s retaurant
Wednesday, 14 May 2014 12:52
by John G. Bailey

    After 57 years of service to Dundalk, Papa Leone’s Spaghetti House on North Point Road closed its doors as a family-run restaurant on May 10. After extensive renovation and expansion, the restaurant will re-open, but under new ownerhip.
    Co-owners Cathy Wood-Rupert and her sister Janet Gephardt are the third generation of the Leone family to operate the establishment. Their grandparents, John and Virginia Leone, bought the current building in 1956. Prior to that, Mr. Leone had operated John’s Barbershop at the site for years.
    The time was propitious for establishing a restaurant. Steel was king, employment was high and families were growing. Papa Leone’s soon became well-known for its authentic Italian food. “Many of the dishes are passed down from my great-grandmother,” Wood-Rupert said.
    The hallmark of the restaurant was the family-owned atmosphere, according to Wood-Rupert. “Customers felt like they were eating in their grandmother’s dining room.”
    A dedicated clientele helped the business thrive. In the early 1970s, the family bought the former St. Michael Roman Catholic Church hall and turned it into a catering hall. The site soon became a popular place for weddings and other gatherings.
    The restaurant passed from Wood-Rupert’s grandparents to her mother, Rosalie Leone Forrer. Wood-Rupert became co-owner of the restaurant with her sister four years ago, after a 30-year career in human resources.
    Papa Leone’s prospered in fat times and suffered in lean ones. Business declined when local manufacturing industries began shrinking and vanishing. To cope with the downturn, the family undertook a major building renovation to keep the restaurant viable.
    “I grew up here,” said Wood-Rupert. “I will always be positive about Dundalk.”
    “It’s a 24-7 job,” she said of running a restaurant. “It takes both a physical and emotional toll.”
    When asked why the family was selling the business, she said, “It was just time to retire.”  
    Yet leaving the business will be hard for Wood-Rupert. “I learned to walk in that place,” she said.
    “Many of the staff and customers became part of the family,”  she continued. “I’ll miss that part a lot.”
    The new owners, which she described as a group of investors, will reopen the restuarant as Papa Leone’s. “We made sure that the name would remain the same [before we sold the restaurant],” she said.