by Marianne Peri-Sack
JoAnn Gambaro Arpiani, the matriarch of the Gambaro family and Hill icon, turned a beautiful 100 years old on June 27. The Italians are fond of the phrase “Cent’ Anni” wishing someone to live for one hundred years and you can almost always hear the phrase at a Baptism or at a birthday party. Most people do not reach this stage in their lives but this classy lady did with much style and a great deal of grace. She has been a zealous activist in the Italian Community and is the only woman Cavaliere in St. Louis. It Italian government honored her with this title for her years of work in the Italian community and the title is the equivalent of being knighted by the Italian government.
Arpiani has been involved in many organizations and a multitude of fund-raising and cultural events. She was the first woman to be allowed to join the Italian Club and she established a scholarship in her brother, Lino Gambaro’s, memory at the Professional Businessmen of the Hill (PBM). Lino was a founding member of that organization and deeply involved in the scholarship program.
JoAnn’s family founded the Missouri Gambaro Bakery in 1923 as a wholesale outlet for her family’s restaurant on Grand called Garavelli’s. The bakery was located on the Hill and as the wonderful, mouth-watering aroma wafted through the neighborhood, people began to knock on the door and inquire if they could purchase some of the bread, etc. Thus one of Missouri’s most famous retail bakeries was born.
JoAnn worked with her brothers for many years and the current owners are her niece, Mimi Gambaro Lordo, and nephew, Chris Gambaro. JoAnn proudly states, “We did no advertising. It was all word of the mouth which is your best advertisement.” On Thursday, July 27, her large circle of friends and family members kept visiting to congratulate JoAnn and the doorbell kept ringing with florists arriving to deliver gorgeous flowers of every kind and color.
The Gambaros were gathering from all over the country. Stephen Gambaro was arriving at the airport at 2:00 in the afternoon. Sandy Gambaro arrived the day before from Chicago and took her Aunt Nini to the Chase Park Plaza with some other family members. Derio Gambaro was picking up longtime friend of the family, Monsignor Sal “Turiddu” Polizzi. That evening her close-knit family and some friends converged on her home to spend the balance of the special day with her. We all know that it is a small world, so through a Gambaro cousin who works for, Mario Batali’s cousin, Batali heard about Aunt Nini and was impressed. The cook and author extraordinaire sent her one of his autographed cook books along with a note. It read: Dear Aunt Nini, Buon Compleanno. I hope you have a fantastic celebration of 100 years with your family. I often think about the fantastic cannoli from your bakery, and I wish you another century of homemade deliciousness.