SCHENECTADY Morrette’s King Steak House — a Schenectady landmark since 1947 — will close Friday night.
Owner Micah Pasquariello, whose family has served steak sandwiches, mushroom hamburgers and chicken parmigiana since taking over the business from original owner Tony Morrette in 1973, believes it’s time to retire from the restaurant business.
Pasquariello and his aunt, business manager Sandy Bielecki, said Wednesday a sale that would have kept open the lunch and dinner place on Erie Boulevard — across from Boulevard Bowl — fell through.
“We’ve committed ourselves for other things,” said Bielecki, who began working part time in the family business in 1973 and has been full time since the mid-1980s.
“We’re making this decision for ourselves,” Bielecki also said. “It’s not taken lightly. It certainly makes it more difficult because we cared so much about our customers and the business itself. This is our home. We spent more waking hours here than we ever did at home.”
“We’ve thought about this for a long, long time,” added Pasquariello, 39, who has worked full time at Morrette’s for the past 18 years and is now day cook and night manager. “This is not something we just all of a sudden decided on. This is something we’ve been trying to work toward for a long time, over a year. … I’m just looking to do other stuff. There’s a lot of work involved running a restaurant.”
Schenectady native and pro wrestler Tony Morrette opened Morrette’s Restaurant in 1947 after he discovered the Philly-style steak sandwich during his travels. He decided to bring the hearty dish to the Capital Region.
Morrette gave up the business after 26 years. David Pasquariello and Ralph Pasquariello, Micah’s father and grandfather, respectively, and David’s brother-in-law, Bruce Bielecki, bought the place in 1973. Micah took over operations when his father died in 2011.
Large framed photos on restaurant walls show off Schenectady’s history, such as the Erie Canal in 1890, the Great Western Gateway Bridge in 1957, city street cars in the 1880s. Even Tony is still around, pictured serving big sandwiches to professional boxers Lou Ambers and Barney Ross during the 1940s or ’50s. David and Ralph Pasquariello also have spots on the wall.
Home-style ambience is still in play — burgundy-colored table coverings and green vinyl-covered seats are parts of 10 booths in the front of the restaurant. Similar colors are on 11 tables in the narrow back section. More casual diners may choose one of the 10 chairs at the front counter.
The restaurant has been in the news before. During the early morning hours of March 5, 1990, fire heavily damaged the building. In 2012, the restaurant’s signature steak sandwich — thin-sliced ribeye beef with three different kinds of cheeses, grilled onions, mushrooms and peppers — was featured on the Travel Channel’s “Food Paradise” show.
Chris Hunter, curator at miSci, Schenectady’s museum of innovation and science, said Morrette’s enjoyed a strategic location during city boom times of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60. The General Electric Co. was located at the foot of Erie Boulevard; the American Locomotive Co. was farther north. Morrette’s was located near the middle of the two.
When Morrette’s opened, Hunter added, General Electric would have employed 30,000 people; Alco’s workforce would have been 10,000 strong. Combined, the two giants offered many potential customers.
“It’s got quite a bit of a diner feel,” Hunter said of the restaurant. “Morrette’s, the Silver Diner, even Mike’s Hot Dogs, they were all little community gathering places.”
Maria Perreca Papa, who owns More Perreca’s on Jay Street, remembers a dedicated staff inside Morrette’s. “You’d see the same people working there for 20, 25 years,” she said. “It’s more than a restaurant closing, it’s part of our neighborhood closing.”
Pasquariello knows there have been rumors around town about Morrette’s closing. “We wanted to make sure we had our employees taken care of, so that’s how the rumors started to come out — when I started telling the employees this sale might not go through, you might need to start looking for work,” he said. “All the employees are taken care of. They’ve all found new work.”
Both Pasquariello and Bielecki say their 11 employees — and large numbers of customers — are people they will miss the most once last meals are served Friday night.
“We want to thank our customers for their years of patronage,” Pasquariello said. “We have had some wonderful customers and built some great relationships over the years.”
“A place like this is built on its regulars,” Bielecki added. “We had a lot of those.”
Both thanked night cook Bob Gray — on the job for more than 30 years — and wait staff member Ellen Norton, employed at Morrette’s for the past 23 years.”
“They’re like family, too,” Bielecki said. “I think the most important thing to know is food. It’s obviously the basis of your success. But the wait staff is integral to the whole operation. No matter how these people felt when they walked in that door, it was never reflected on the floor. … They’re amazing.”
Bielecki has considered her feelings about final days on the job and the end of the family business.
“It’s kind of like someone dying and you’re in this mode where you have so much to do, so much to plan and maybe down the road it hits,” she said. “I think the gravity of it is going to hit us later on.”
Pasquariello said the restaurant remains for sale. He is hopeful.
“We were trying really hard, that was our thing,” he said. “We really wanted somebody to come in, sell them everything from recipes to all the pictures on the wall, the Morrette’s name and brand. Sometimes, things don’t work out the way you want them to. They still could.”