Sadie Tronco, born to Charles and Anna Serio Carnaggio, on February 18, 1901, moved to Columbia with her parents and siblings around the year 1910. Charles Carnaggio owned one of the first fruit stores in Columbia, located on Gervais street close to Seaboard Railway Station.
During World War I, James Tronco was sent from his home in Philadelphia to Camp Jackson as a medic. There he met Sadie in her father's fruit store and they were married in 1918. They moved to Philadelphia and lived there for a few years before moving back to Columbia in 1930. They had four children – Joe, Charlie, Carmella and Anna Rose. Sadie and Jim opened a fruit store at 1901 Main Street. They named it Iodine Fruit Store because South Carolina was known for the iodine in the soil. A few years later, they opened another fruit store at 1712 Main Street. During World War II, when so many Northern soldiers of Italian descent were stationed at Fort Jackson and were becoming homesick for their own mother's cooking, Sadie began cooking spaghetti and meatballs for a few of them who had become friendly with the family. Thus was born the first Italian restaurant in Columbia. Sadie, or Mama Tronco, as she was affectionately called by her friends, introduced pizza to Columbia and actually had to give it away because virtually no one knew what it was.
Today, Villa Tronco, its named changed from Iodine Fruit Store to Iodine Grill and Tony's Spaghetti House, to the present name, is still serving Mama's treasured recipes. Mama Tronco, at age 87, was still active and came to the restaurant every day to see her friends until her death in 1988.
Her daughter Carmella and her husband, Henry Martin (former basketball star at USC), were in business with Mama for 41 years. Their daughter Carmella and her husband, Joe Roche, joined the family business in 1972. Carmella and Henry have retired and turned the business over to Carmella and Joe, but still remain staples in daily activities at the restaurant. In March 2012, Henry was selected as a recipient of the prestigious SEC Basketball Legends award. He was the first player to score 1,000 points for the Gamecocks during his basketball career.
As we celebrate over 70 years of serving Columbia, Joe and Carmella's children, Bonner and Carmelina, are active in the family business. Bonner and his wife Kristen have added the family's 5th generation, with their sons, Joseph Bonner (Tripp) and Donovan Peter, and their daughter Jorja Harris. Carmelina was married to Luis Nieto in July 2011 and has taken over baking Carmella's Famous Cheesecakes from her grandmother.
The building, occupied for so many years by the family, was declared a historic landmark and the back dining room was restored to preserve as much of the original building as possible, including the floor, brick, skylight and stable doors. The facade was restored in August 1983. In June 2012, the facade was renovated again. The adjoining building was remodeled to add a new store front for the main entrance of the restaurant. Our family is proud to say that Villa Tronco has been a tradition in Columbia since 1940. We shall endeavor to carry on as our beloved founder, Mama Tronco, did for many years.
Columbia, SC (Est. 1940)
The Civil War and Prohibition messed up a lot of things in the
South, but chief among them was the uninterrupted operation of some of
their finest drinking and dining establishments. Since the liquor
control boards and historical societies have limited records, this World
War II-era spot is the oldest restaurant that can confirm continuous
operation in a state that dates back to 1788. An Italian joint, it was
originally opened by a family who wanted Italian-American soldiers
training at Ft. Jackson to enjoy a little home cooking
~Meltzer, Matt. "The Oldest Restaurant in Every State." Thrillist.Com. 6 November 2014