SEATTLE – On a blustery Holy Thursday evening, a newly dedicated Italian pizza oven named Constantino was fired up to feed an estimated 140 homeless men in the city’s Central District.
“As a restaurant and a company, we nourish people every day,” said Joe Fugere, a member of St. Edward Parish in Seattle who owns the local Tutta Bella Pizzeria chain. “And this is a way to nourish those who can’t afford a restaurant.”
The April 13 gathering began with an informal blessing of the 6,000-pound oven — shipped directly from Naples, Italy, and installed in Tutta Bella’s new D’Asporto glass-and-steel mobile pizzeria.
The oven bears the name of Costantino Cutolo, Fugere’s Italian friend and colleague, who died of cancer in 2015. Cutolo’s family in Naples grows and packages the tomatoes that Fugere uses in his restaurants.
“He was an amazing guy who had a passion for family and pizza and people,” Fugere said.
Cutolo’s sister, Manuela Cutolo, traveled from Italy to participate in the oven dedication ceremony. Using a large sprig of basil, she sprinkled holy water onto the oven while a prayer was read by G De Castro, a former assistant campus ministry director at Seattle University.
About 75 people attended the ceremony. “It’s a big surprise to see how he was loved and considered a good friend,” Manuela Cutolo said of her brother.
Each of Tutta Bella’s ovens has been named for a family member or friend, Fugere said: his mother, Maria Carolina; his sister, Maria Francesa; his grandmother, Carolina Costanza Kinsella; and his great-grandparents, Filomena and Pietro.
Fugere said his tradition of blessing new wood-burning ovens for his eating establishments began when he opened his first restaurant in Columbia City in 2004. Kinsella, his Italian grandmother, made the suggestion, he said, based on an Italian tradition of inviting a Catholic priest to bless a newly opened business. Since then, Fugere has invited local priests to bless the ovens at Tutta Bella’s five locations around Seattle and on the Eastside.
On Holy Thursday, however, Fugere couldn’t find a priest who was free to bless Constantino’s oven. But it would have been difficult to change the dedication date because of the Cutolo family members who traveled from Italy, Fugere said in an email.
After the oven’s dedication, chefs got to work preparing pizza and handing it out to the homeless men waiting outside Operation Nightwatch, a homeless outreach in Seattle’s Central District.
“It’s literally washing the feet of the poor, don’t you think?” said Rev. Rick Reynolds, a Free Methodist minister and executive director of Operation Nightwatch. “I think this is exactly what Christians should be doing in terms of pious living.”