ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Rappoccio family said a tearful farewell to their family restaurant after celebrating their 50-year anniversary just three months ago. Sam’s Italian American Restaurant in Albany couldn’t find the staff or handle the rise in food prices the pandemic brought with it to make it another year.

Today, the sounds of a full table laughing, and even having a few disagreements could be heard at Sam’s Restaurant. Three generations of Rappoccios, two longtime bartenders and one beloved customer, gathered to speak with NEWS10 ABC. The owners—Carmella Rappoccio Dauvney, 73, and Paul Rappoccio, 71—said the decision to close has been “bittersweet” after the countless fond memories made there.

In 1956, the patriarch of the family, Salvatore (Sam) traveled from a small town in Southern Italy to the United States. He moved into an apartment next door to a grocery store on Southern Boulevard in Albany. His wife Angela and three children followed in 1959.

“My mother got off the boat and literally kissed the ground,” Carmella said. “We went by the Statue of Liberty, and she was so sick and so happy to be here she literally got on her hands and knees, said a prayer, and kissed the ground!”

NEWS10’s Stephanie Rivas asked Paul what it was like for him when he first came to America, and his response was simple: “Like heaven. And it still is.”

In the 1960s, Paul and Carmella’s father, Sam, purchased the grocery store next to their family home. A few years later, the family started making brick-oven pizza in the cellar and converted the garage into a pizzeria for takeout. Eventually, they squirreled away enough money to build the kitchen and open Sam’s Restaurant in 1971.

One of Sam’s first hires was his friend Rich Gibson, who grew up down the street. He worked at the restaurant as a bartender for over 35 years and then became a weekly customer.

“A neighbor, a great neighbor…really good,” Gibson said about Sam. “I remember his humor and his work ethic.”

Paul said his father “was born in this business and died in this business.”

The Rappoccios said the restaurant thrived throughout the years and became a local favorite by celebrities. André the Giant’s signed photograph still hangs up proudly by the entryway, and petite Carmella has another framed photo sitting atop his broad shoulders.

Rich retired 15 years ago, but Carmella and Paul never stopped working until the pandemic hit. The family joked that Paul’s go-to position at the restaurant was lying underneath the refrigerator with a wrench. Although they didn’t consider closing before, 2020 brought with it challenges they couldn’t overcome.

“I can’t put the hours in like I used to,” Paul said. “It’s been on and off for the last year on what to do with [the restaurant] because of this COVID. That’s what killed us.”

It was a difficult decision, but they said their hands were forced by the depleted workforce and the rise in food prices. 

When the Roppoccio family made their closing announcement on Facebook, hundreds of messages flooded the comments section.

“I’m going to miss the whole Ropppocio Family. I’m going to miss the staff. I’m going to miss being able to come here every week. There’s a lot to miss here,” John Fritze, a loyal customer of over 40 years, said.

Carmella teared up speaking about her customers, and Paul said it would take weeks to name all of the ones he is going to miss.