News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 3, 2012

Carosi’s closing: Longtime northside Italian restaurant changing hands

TERRE HAUTE — Today marks the end of Carosi’s Italian Restaurant — a name that has been synonymous with Terre Haute’s northside for 66 years.

Owners Mark and Cyndi Roman closed on the restaurant’s sale Friday morning and will serve the business’s final menu today, ending at 9 p.m.

The building will remain as an Italian restaurant “but with a new name, a new owner and new recipes,” Mark Roman said Friday.

Roman said the new owner will announce plans for the business later this month.

Ortenzio Carosi started an Italian restaurant in 1946 in 12 Points on the northside of Terre Haute. The business has been located in different locations up and down Lafayette Avenue, even under different names, such as Triangle Cafe, “specializing in real Italian spaghetti and ravioli,” at 1295 Lafayette Ave.

Roman bought the restaurant, at 1733 Lafayette Ave., and the Carosi’s name in 1997 from Ortenzio Carosi’s grandson, Steve Sanders, and his wife, Margaret. It included the restaurant’s recipe for red sauce.

Roman did not sell the red sauce recipe, but plans on selling it in the future.

“I will sell it. It is worth some money. I paid dearly for it before so I am sure somebody else will,” Roman chuckled.

At age 57, Roman said he is ready to start “a new chapter in my life. I have been here 15 years and it is time to turn the page and move on.”

Roman said he will likely return to being an insurance automotive claims estimator — a job he held for 15 years prior to getting into the restaurant business. He holds an automotive degree from Ivy Tech Community College (1974) and is a 1980 graduate of Indiana State University with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education/vocational education.

His father, Kenny Roman, owned a Marathon gasoline station at Fort Harrison and Lafayette Avenue on the city’s northside, where Mark Roman worked during high school. It taught him how to work hard, he said.

“I wanted to own my business and my wife and I ate here for years and found it was for sale. I thought, well, if I am going to work hard, I might as work hard for myself and that is how I bought this place,” he said of Carosi’s restaurant.

“And I worked hard,” Roman smiled. “It has been a good family business, but it’s time to turn the page. It wears on you. It is a lot of hours. People don’t realize how many hours it actually takes to run a restaurant,” he said.

The restaurant is open 22 hours a week, for dinners only, but Roman still had to tend to the business and its employees.

“The one thing gratifying is meeting all the people. I have the best clientele, I think, that a restaurateur could have,” Roman said.

The business has had its share of famous personalities during Roman’s term, such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who ate at the restaurant in 2008 while stumping in Terre Haute for then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Albright was the first female U.S. secretary of state, appointed by former president Bill Clinton.

A photo of Albright with Mark and his son, Matt, rests on a ledge in the business’s back bar and lounge.

Others include basketball legend Larry Bird and, while not in person, Carosi’s filled a large takeout order for comedian Jerry Seinfeld while he was in Terre Haute for a 2007 performance at Indiana State University.

Roman’s was also the first privately owned dinner restaurant, with a full-service bar, to go smoke-free in Terre Haute in December 2003. In 2005, Roman expanded with a lounge and bar area catered to those 21 and older. The restaurant went from 70 seats up to 125 seats.

He had fun while at the restaurant. During that time Roman converted a school bus into a “Colts” bus, which he owned from 2004 to 2011, taking family, employees and friends to Indianapolis to attend NFL games.

“It was a lot of fun and we had a great time tailgating,” Roman said.

Roman said the best part of the business was having family members work with him.

“Without them, it would have been extremely difficult to have something like this,” he said.

Son Matt left the restaurant about four years ago, while daughter Mandi left about two years ago. The two siblings, along with their mother Cyndi, work at SMC Inc., a custom sheet metal ductwork fabrication company owned by their grandfather, Ray Sumner.

“It is bittersweet,” said Matt Roman, who said he started working in the kitchen at age 13 washing dishes. Mandi started working as a hostess at age 15. “I will miss it a lot. We met so many great people,” Mandi added.

“I am happy to start a new chapter, but it is hard to let go. It has been a big part of our lives,” Cyndi said, as tears welled in her eyes.

Mark added that “one of the nicest of things of owning this restaurant was my employees. It was nice watching them grow. I’ve had a lot of college kids working here, who graduated and moved on to become nurses, pilots and engineers,” he said.

Lindsie Downing, 27, worked at the restaurant for 12 years. She started in 2000 at age 15, with a work permit that restricted her working after 9 p.m. Downing returned Friday to work one last time to help out the Roman family. She previously left for another job two months ago.

“Obviously, working here that long, Mark is a good guy,” Downing said. “I wanted to cry when I heard about it closing. I told Mark that just because I stopped working here, he didn’t have to sell the place,” Downing said.

Roman said the new business will also keep all employees that currently work at the restaurant.

“I hope everybody supports [the new owner]. I know how hard a worker he is and I know how particular he is. The food will be good. It will be different, but I will be here to support him,” Roman said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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