When _Joe Mazzola opened Cafe Sicilia_, he said he hoped to bring a little slice of Italian culture to Tewksbury.
In the year since, the cafe has inspired others to rediscover and embrace their Italian heritage. The result is the return of the Sons of Italy to Tewksbury.
Tony Boschetti and George Iannuzzo have joined with Mazzola as founding members of Tewksbury Lodge #2872 of the Order of the Sons of Italy of America.
"It all started right here in this restaurant," said Boschetti, while enjoying a sub and some tripe in marinara sauce at _Cafe Sicilia_. "We started talking about how it would be nice to have an old-fashioned Italian social club."
"Like they did in the North End (of Boston)," said Iannuzzo. "You have a place where you can sit at the tables and talk."
And eat. To be sure, mouth watering food is part of Italian heritage and is part of the plans for the Sons of Italy.
They had a environment like that at Cafe Sicilia. But with just three-tables in a small space, the possibilities were limited. And as a new chapter, having their own building isn't in the cards.
The men wound up connecting with _Dawn Callahan, owner of T.J. Callahan's_ on Route 38. Callahan agreed to allow the Sons of Italy to use a function room at the restaurant as a club headquarters.
"She has a great facility over there," said Boschetti. "We were looking for a place where people could stop in for a half-hour, 45 minutes and relax and talk."
Boschetti and Iannuzo both talked about wanting to pass along elements of Italian heritage and culture to their children and grandchildren and see the club as an excellent venue to make that happen.
"Right now we can tell the young kids what it used to be like (at the old Italian social clubs) but it's different to be able to show them and help them experience it," said Boschetti.
In an era that has seen many social clubs and fraternal organizations struggle with membership, it's unusual to see a new club form. However, Tewksbury appears perfectly suited to a Sons of Italy chapter. According to U.S. Census figures, more than 24 percent of Tewksbury's population identify themselves as being of Italian descent. That's roughly 7,500 people.
According to Iannuzzo, Tewksbury previously had an SOI chapter, but it dissolved around 1986.
The new chapter needed 25 people signed up in order to be recognized and the trio says they have well over that number.
Boschetti said that while Italian culture and heritage will be at the forefront of the organization, membership will not be limited to Italian-Americans.
"Anyone can become a member," he said. "But to have voting privileges, you have to be of Italian descent or be married to someone of Italian descent."
The club's organizational council will meeting after the first of the year and will then start regular open meetings.
Boschetti, Mazzola and Iannuzzo say they intend for the club to be "family-friendly" with many activities geared toward women children and families. They said it's also their intent for the club to be active members of the Tewksbury community.
Possible activities for the club, as it moves ahead and grows, include cooking classes, Italian language classes, a scholarship program and even an Italian festival.
Those interested in joining the Sons of Italy or learning more about the organization are invited to stop by Cafe Sicilia for a brochure and a membership application.