Frank Ferrante

taken from an article in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph dated March 14, 1982

Ferrante Leaves Mines for Restaurant

Frankie's La Salute 2005 shortly before it was torn down - photo provided by Kevin SpicerThrough his Italian accent betrays it, Frank Ferrante, owner of Frankie's La Salute in Bluewell is no stranger to the coalfields of southern West Virginia.  As a matter of fact, he was born in Mannering (now McComas), although his family moved back to Italy when he was just a baby.

"I was born in this country, " he said, "But my family returned to Italy shortly afterward when my father lost his parents.  After we were there, the rest of the family convinced him to stay.  My brother and I started school there and things were pretty good until Mussolina started coming to power.  My father who had become an American citizen previously, though it would be best to return to America since my brother and I were American citizens, too.  So my father, my older brother, Andy and I came back to West Virginia to save enough monety to bring my mother and two sisters here, too."

He could not have picked a worse time.  Times were hard here in the coalfields as well as all over the country.  Jobs were hard to find, and once found, produced little income.  Frank's father, Vito Ferrante, found himself among thousands of American workers trying to raise a family during the Great Depression -- and he had to do it alone.

old Mariotti house at McComas"My father worked at the American Coal Company's preparation plant at Crane Creek then," Frank said, "My brother and I were small.  I was in the fourth grade and couldn't speak English.  Andy was a little older.  We rented a small house from the Mariotti family and I cut grass, shined shoes, and helped my dad to earn money.  I always liked to make my own way.  But the Depression kept us from accumulating enough money to bring the rest of the family to America."

Asked how the family coped during the Depression, Frank said they would walk to the drug store and get an ice cream cone or play baseball there in Crane Creek.  No one felt it necessary to travel long distances for recreational activities.

"When we were a little older we got jobs with the American Coal Company, too," he continued."  I started on what was known as the "bull gang" -- workers who preformed all sorts of odd jobs -- for 20 cents an hour.  Then I moved up to work at the tipple as a car coupler.  It was my duty to keep the empty coal cars moving back to the mine so they could be refilled with coal.  On weekends and in my spare time I worked at the Mariotti's  store.  The miners weren't working good then -- I guess maybe only one or two days a week.  So people worked at other jobs.  Others had gardens and kept livestock to keep food on the table."

Henry Warden 1939When he was here, Frank worked under Henry F. Warden, Sr., supervisor at American Coal Company's Crane Creek operations.  He said the leadership exhibited by Warden was an inspiration to him all his life.  Years later, when Frank made his mark as a Bluefield businessman, Warden again was his superior as Chairman of the Board of the Peoples' Bank of Bluewell when Frank was a board member.

"During all these hard times, I had a dream of owning my own business,", he said, "And today, when I realize all that I have done and all that I have, it seems like a dream.  When you come up like I did, something like this seems like it could only be a dream.  But my dream came true."

But Frank's dream didn't come true like some magical fantasy.  He had to work hard and take chances.

After his entire family was together again, Frankie began to concentrate on owning a small store -- like the Mariotti store in McComas.  He had learned how to operate such a business.  All he lacked was the opportunity to invest in such a venture.

In July, 1941, as war clouds were forming over America, Frank's chance came.  He was able to rent the Cardinal Inn, a small restaurant-store operation which offered gasoline and sandwiches.  His family thought this was the wrong time to start such a venture when war seemed inevitable and Frank surely would be called to fight for his country.  But Frank wasn't about to miss the opportunity of a lifetime -- and his family decided to stand behind him all the way.  Later they even worked at the Inn for him.

Despite the war, Frank's investment quickly paid off.  As the mines in the area were on the upswing, more and more money was flowing in the coalfields.  And Frank Ferrente got his fair share -- which he saved or invested.  One of his investments was the purchase of property in Bluewell which now houses the La Salute.

In 1942 Frank was drafted and sent to England, France and Germany after D-Day.  While he was away his family managed the Cardinal Inn for him.  But when he returned in December 1945, Frank learned that the owners of the Inn no longer wanted to rent the property.  His only choice was to open a new restaurant on the Bluewell property.  Thus Frankie's LaSalute was born.

"I understand this business", he said, " I know what the people here want.  That is why I have been successful.  I get up and open the doors and I close them at night.  My sisters Mary Ferrante and Lena Mariotti, help me, as well as my brother Nick.  My older brother, Andy' helped me until he died in 1961.  And I have an excellent kitchen manager, Nannie Vecellio.  I couldn't make it without them and the other fine staff members here."