Ray Lazzini lived all his life in Santa Rosa, and nearly all his life he sold folks groceries and served his famous polenta stew to oftentimes hundreds of people at feeds that raised money for causes throughout the community.
Lazzini and his wife, Kathy, had operated their family grocery store, Ray’s Food Center at Dutton and Hearn avenues, for 50 years when they retired in 2007.
“Fifty years,” Ray Lazzini said then. “It’s time.”
He was 77 when he quit working at the store but kept cooking for fundraising dinners. Also in retirement he set off with his wife to do his first serious traveling since the Korean War era, when he spent long stints at sea on aircraft carriers.
The Lazzinis took a cruise ship through the Panama Canal and visited Italy three times and took some other fabulous trips before the retired grocer began to lose himself to vascular dementia.
He died March 19 at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. He was 89.
Lazzini and his late brother and sisters, Joe, Gloria and Delores, grew up in the Little Italy district of downtown Santa Rosa and then in the Roseland neighborhood just southwest of the city. While at Santa Rosa High, Ray Lazzini barely acknowledged neighbor girl Katherine Giannini, who was several years younger and attended Ursuline High.
Lazzini graduated in 1948 and found work at the former Corby Market on Barham Avenue. Giannini was a graduate, too, and worked for the telephone company with Delores Lazzini, who informed her that her brother, Ray, had taken a liking to her.
The two of them went on their first date, to the hardtop car races, in early 1952. They became engaged shortly before Ray Lazzini joined the Navy, becoming an electrician.
He and Kathy Giannini married in June of ’52. Eight months at a time, Ray Lazzini was away at sea.
“He was fixing jets on aircraft carriers,” his wife said. “He loved it.”
Lazzini served four years, then returned to Santa Rosa and to the grocery business. He was in the produce department at Espindola’s on Fourth Street when he and his brother, Joe, a World War II veteran, agreed they’d buy a market on Dutton Avenue, in the countryside southwest of town.
The year was 1957. Ray Lazzini recalled in 2007 that their work schedule at Ray’s Food Center was 13 days on, one day off.
Kathy Lazzini and several other family members worked at the market, too. For a number of years, an uncle, the late Nello Bassignani, ran the meat counter as an independent business. The Lazzinis’ son, Steve, and his wife, Leslie, operated the deli, called Steve-O’s.
Genial and eager to be of help to people, Ray Lazzini was in his element at the market.
“He was always a groceryman,” his wife said. “He loved the grocery business.”
All through his career, Lazzini also cooked and served polenta stew at benefit and social dinners of Ursuline, Cardinal Newman and Santa Rosa high schools, Resurrection Parish, several Italian-American organizations and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
He continued to cook for community meals when he and his wife decided that 50 years of running Ray’s Food Center was enough and sold the business in 2007.