Longtime Alberto’s owner Joe Cuddemi remembered

  • Joe Cuddemi enjoys breakfast at the Common Place Eatery in Bennington in June 2020. Staff file photo by Ben Conant—

  • Joe Cuddemi was known for taking time to stop and talk to customers at Alberto’s, such Scott and Erin Buffum at the restaurant's bar in 2019. —Staff file photo by Tim Goodwin

  • Joe Cuddemi checks in with longtime chef Denise Boilard in 2019. Boilard has told Cuddemi’s daughter Jordan that she will stay at Alberto’s until she retires. —Staff file photo by Tim Goodwin

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    In this 2019 photo, Alberto's owner Joe Cuddemi chats with hostess Stephanie Dewey in front of a picture of his father, Albert "Bat" Cuddemi, who started the restaurant in 1945. —Staff file photo by Tim Goodwin

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/5/2022 11:18:31 AM
Modified: 1/5/2022 11:17:51 AM

When asked, the thing many people remember most clearly about Joe Cuddemi is that even though he was busy as the owner and operator of Alberto’s Italian Restaurant, he took time to sit down and chat with his customers. 

“I’d say that was one of his favorite parts about restaurant life,” said his daughter, Jordan. “Just hearing the stories, and catching up with regulars.”

Cuddemi died Dec. 15 at the age of 76, leaving behind a beloved family owned restaurant in the town that was his home for his whole life.

“He was huge in the community,” said his wife, Erin. “He was basically born and raised here, and he just loved being part of this town.”

Cuddemi, known to some as the “unofficial mayor of Bennington,” was a part of Alberto’s for more than 50 years, when he returned to the family business after working briefly in the electronics industry. The restaurant was opened by his father, Albert “Bat” Cuddemi, in 1945 under the name Riverside Cafe, and Cuddemi took Alberto’s over from his father in 1983. He met his wife there, after he hired her to be a waitress in 1978. 

Now, his daughter will run the restaurant.

Jordan said she spent many of her early years at the restaurant, bussing tables and making salads, and that she was sure her father had fallen into the business the same way she had. After pursuing a career in journalism, Jordan returned to the restaurant in the fall of 2019 and began to learn the ropes from her father. 

“I just kind of sat back and watched how he did everything, and slowly started picking up exactly in his footsteps,” she said. “Each week, he’d let me have a little bit more control.”

Cuddemi fell ill in the summer of 2021, at which point Jordan stepped more fully into the managerial role of the restaurant. Since he died, she has kept that up.

Cuddemi’s longtime chef, Denise Boilard, intends to stick around and help run things, as well.

“I’ll be here for quite a while,” she said, adding that she told Jordan that she’d stay until she retired. 

Boilard started at Alberto’s in 1988, when she was 25.

“He was like a dad to me, because I was so young when I started working there,” she said. “He always cared about where I was going, what I was doing, he made sure I was OK.”

Boilard said that Cuddemi did this for much of the town, not just her - sliding a few dollars to children who didn’t have enough to buy food, taking youngsters shopping and giving them rides home or sending free food to the homes of community members who had died. 

“He tried to take care of everybody if he could,” she said.

Cuddemi’s contributions to Bennington were not limited to his ownership of Alberto’s, as he was a selectman from 1982 to 1985, and again from 2002 to 2012. His contributions during this time were not to be understated, according to Steve Campbell, Bennington’s former police chief. He said that he worked closely with Cuddemi when he was on the Select Board.

“He loved Bennington, I know he worked hard to improve Bennington,” Campbell said. “He wanted to make it a good town to work in. He was just so invested in Bennington his entire life; he wanted to make sure people were happy.”

One such example, Campbell said, was that Cuddemi on more than one occasion insisted on riding around town to check out all of the roads, and to check the streetlights to ensure that they were working. 

“He wasn’t just on the board of selectmen or one of my supervisors; he and I became very good friends,” Campbell said. “He supported me 100%.”

Outside of his work and his town service, Jordan said her father would still go out into the community in his free time and chat with these people that he’d known all of his life. 

“He really knew these people, and their families, and what they were into,” she said.

According to Boilard, Cuddemi’s loss is felt not just by the community as a whole, but specifically by the staff at the restaurant. 

“He’s definitely missed,” she said. “He cared about everybody, he did. He’d encourage everybody to be better, or teach us something new.”

Now, she said she says goodnight to him through his picture hanging by the light switch when she turns out the lights at the end of the night. 

Erin said she was grateful for Jordan’s return to run the family business.

“I can’t imagine if she hadn’t made that decision, we might not be in business today,” she said. “I think someone saw something coming and decided to plop her down in the middle of it.”

She also predicted that Jordan would continue find success in the role, because she takes after her father.

“She and her father were two peas in a pod. They are so much alike, it’s amazing,” Erin said. “People just even say, ‘Jordan’s just like her dad, she walks around, goes out and talks with people.’ She’s just the same way her father was.”

For Jordan, the reality of the loss hasn’t fully hit yet, but she knows that she wants to keep her focus on Alberto’s. 

“I definitely see myself continuing on,” she said. “It’s been hard since he passed away, but this is what he would want, is to continue to hit the ground running.”


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