Some of Chiocca’s regulars have been around almost as long. A yellowing photograph of the Bendictine Cadets basketball team from 1962 sits in front of the cash register. “Everyone in this picture that’s still alive, still comes here,” says Carla.
The low lights, red vinyl booths and commemorative wall of shame give Chiocca’s — part bar, part sandwich shop — a smoke-cured coziness that you’re more likely to find in Chicago or Boston.
Carla’s brother Tim Chiocca took over the business from his father, Mario, in 1977, inheriting an eight-decade tradition. The family moved from Italy and settled in Richmond in 1893 and has operated saloons, confectionaries and restaurants ever since. Tim and Carla’s grandfather, Papa Pete, owned a restaurant at Fourth and Franklin — a newspaperman’s hangout — and employed his sons. After returning from World War II all four boys opened restaurants in Richmond, and all named them Chiocca’s.
Tim and Carla’s uncle Andrew owned a Chiocca’s on Cary Street that, according to Tim, served Richmond’s first pizza pies.
To keep a business going as long as Chiocca’s, you have to take good care of your customers. “For lunch, if you don’t eat, you can’t drink. Except on the weekend. We bend that rule then,” says Tim.
Chiocca’s most loyal regular is Peggy, the gas-powered Star Broiler named after Tim and Carla’s mother, who died when they were young. “Dad bought it used out in Jersey before any of us were born,” says Tim, “so it’s well-seasoned. I don’t mess with it. That’s one thing I’ll never change.”
Peggy is joined in the kitchen by a miniature fryer, two soup-servers, a cheese-slicer, a small pizza oven, a microwave — and that’s it. “I like things to be fresh,” says Tim “nothin’ sittin’ around too long.” Except for the customers, that is.
While all the regulars are celebrities at Chiacco’s, some people famous in the outside world have come through as well. Notre Dame’s Digger Phelps, many of the Redskins, and Benedictine’s coach Warren Rutledge, who has the Virginia record for winning the most high school games in a career, have graced the bar as well. “Coach Rutledge is the only man I’ve ever let smoke a cigar in here,” says Tim solemnly.
Once, Father Rembert, the pastor at Benedictine’s, came into Chiocca’s on a Sunday afternoon and pointed out all the people he hadn’t seen in church that morning. Tim recalls, “Dad had to ask him to quit it, it wasn’t exactly good for business.” — Amy Biegelsen
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