The American Dream
In 1951 Felix Petta and his third wife Caroline opened a post-war little Italian restaurant on Duane Avenue in the City of Schenectady.
Felix’s father came over from Italy just after the turn of the century. He got a job as a gardener for General Electric and quickly sent for his wife and three children. The boys, Felix and his brother Joseph came immediately, while their sister, Lucille, stayed in Italy with her husband, Angelo.
When WWI broke out, Felix served for the United States. After the war, his sister and husband immigrated to the US and settled in Schenectady. Felix, feeling ready to marry, asked his sister if she knew any nice girls. She told Felix of her friend, Maria, in Italy. Felix and Maria corresponded by mail for a while and decided to get married. Felix had to go down to NYC, onto the boat, and get married by the captain, as she would not be able to enter the US unless she was married to a citizen. They eventually had another more intimate ceremony at St. Anthony’s in Schenectady.
Their first child was a boy, Michael. A few years later, Maria was again with child. Their son Peter was born in 1924. Tragically, Maria died within months from complications of childbirth. About a year later, the eldest son Michael died at the age of 7, leaving Felix and his second son Pete alone. Felix eventually remarried Lucy who also died young.
When WWII broke out, Felix's remaining and courageous son Peter lied about his age and went to war for the US at the age of 15. He returned a war hero, bearing a collection of medals including the Purple Heart.
Peter met a freckled faced Irish/French Canadian beauty named Mary Elizabeth “Betty” for short. Soon their first son, Michael (named after his father's deceased older brother), was born.
Before long, Pete and Betty had a family of 6, son, Mike and three daughters: Lynn, Kathy, and Terri. Peter worked full time as a bartender at the restaurant while selling cars part-time. Friends and family laughingly remember that many of those cars were sold over the bar.
Michael was born in 1951, the same year his Grandfather Felix and his third wife Caroline opened the restaurant, then called “Petta’s Kitchen”, on the property across the street from their house on the location of the old horse barn for Canali’s Bakery delivery carriages.
The family business was a success and soon a banquet room addition was built. Soon after, Caroline died, but not before many memorable parties enjoyed her homemade wine, charming good humor and generosity.
Michael and Sisters Lynn, Kathy and Terri
Michael, started keeping books for the restaurant when he was 12 and then studied at Lemoyne; graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Business in 1973. During college, he came home every weekend to help his father run the restaurant as his grandfather Felix had died in 1971.
Eventually Pete retired and Mike and his sisters took over the restaurant. Mike’s education proved invaluable, as he made many changes over the years, with his sisters’ confidence, which allowed the restaurant to evolve and change with the changing needs of customers.
Mike has managed the restaurant since college and his sisters have worked at the restaurant most of their adult lives. Lynn waitressed for years, and now works as head bartender and banquet manager. She also makes our incredible blue cheese dressing. Terri bakes our delicious desserts and also waitresses and works parties. Try her incredible fresh cheesecakes, chocolate caramel cake or tiramisu!
Schenectady’s economic condition declined in the 1990’s and the area around Petta’s changed drastically from a thriving, working class neighborhood, consisting of families who owed their fortune to General Electric to a depressed neighborhood challenged with troubled youth, drug dealers, and many vacant houses. Mike purchased as many of the properties around the restaurant as possible, renovated them and tried to rent most of the apartments to employees or families of employees. Not wanting to be a landlord, Mike became one out of the necessity to control what happened around the restaurant. This revitalization strategy was recognized by the Capital District Business Review.
Mike also started a daily routine of sweeping the street garbage off the streets of the 5 blocks around the restaurant, which was recognized by Times Union writer Marv Cermack.
As a result of Mike’s proactive community involvement, he was asked to run for public office, and in 1999 was elected to City Council. After a four year term, he ran for County Legislator, won, and was reelected unopposed to a second term.
The restaurant is over 60 years old this year. Mike and his sisters still run the family business with the help of spouses and several wait-staff and cooks who have been with the Petta Family for over 25 years. One special lady, Esther Hogan , has worked in the kitchen for over 40 years, and has just recently retired!!