The most prosperous time in the history of Liberati's was in the late 1950s and through the 1960s and '70s. "The best time was when we first opened up, to learn the business. It was really hectic," Edward said. "There was a lot of business at that time, but the neighborhood changed a lot, too. A lot of my old customers moved away. They still come back but not as often as they used to. "We used to be very, very busy," he added. "We made a lot of pizza. A lot of young kids were here. Then I had to change. Kids were ruining the business. They were really loud." Edward said the only advertisement for the restaurant has been word of mouth -- great Italian food and a great atmosphere. "I still have the same food as when I opened up, and I improved it as the time went on. My prices are very, very reasonable."
Mama Liberati worked at the restaurant for 44 years, six days a week. Shortly after her 95th birthday, Felicia had a stroke, and never fully recovered. "We gave her a 95th birthday party right here," said Edward, who took over for his mother as primary cook in the mid-1970s. "She had a stroke, but until then she was working six days a week. She was good to prepare stuff. But she could not cook anymore." With the economic expansion and migration to the suburbs in the 1980s and '90s, business at Liberati's dwindled. Edward also said another reason for the loss in patronage has been the wild expansion of cookie-cutter chain-store restaurants. "Well, it's been a little hard right now. Everything goes up (in the economy). So many restaurants opened up all over around here," Edward said. "Like I say, the people died, moved away, and I really never advertised. People come back here now and ask, 'Jeez, wow, we thought this place was closed. We thought you were gone.' "I see people come in here every day and wonder why I am still here. 'Oh, God, I thought you were closed!' In 50 years, people think, what the heck, he's not there anymore'."
Edward has kept the Liberati tradition alive, working six days a week from nearly noon until 11 p.m. On his lone off day, Monday, Edward retreats back to the restaurant to check on the books, head to the bank, or, if it's nice outside, schedule a round of golf on the local links. "I really don't have any personal time. I do my own shopping at the Eastern Market. I go shopping, come here, make my dough (sometimes twice a day), make my soups, and at 4 o' clock I start cooking. About every day it's the same thing -- work, work, work."
Two mayors and a former automobile chairman have been among the many customers who have visited Liberati's over the years. Former longtime Dearborn Mayor Orville Hubbard and his sons have eaten at the restaurant, Edward said. The late Mayor Michael Guido visited on occasion. Lee Iaccoca and his wife frequented the restaurant when he was Chrysler CEO and chairman and Ford Motor Co. president. One of the main questions coming out of the Liberati's kitchen is whether Edward's stamina is comparable to Felicia's. "Well, I don't know if I can make it that far," he said. "She was a strong lady."
Though he has listened to a few offers to close the restaurant and to sell the property, Liberati has no plans to close. "It seems hard to let it go," he said. "A lot of people call and ask if we are closed. People wanted to buy (the property) but I just couldn't get out." The recipe for a Liberati's Special pizza sounds simple -- just some cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, green peppers, onion, ham, bacon and anchovies.
But what makes it special is the love and tradition of three generations.
Liberati's is open 4-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 2-10 p.m. on Sundays.
Steven H, Royal Oak, Michigan
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