Kudos to Amedeo Obici – The Suffolk News-Herald

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Story of Phyllis Speidell
Photos of John H. Sheally II

If the name Obici sounds familiar, you may have noticed it on Sentara Obici Hospital, Historic Obici House at Sleepy Hole Golf Course, Obici Healthcare Foundation, Meridian Obici Apartment Complex Downtown from Suffolk, Obici Industrial Blvd, the Obici-Oderzo Fountain, or even a glass of cold Birra Del Obici at the Nansemond Brewing Station.

But too often, Amedeo Obici, the man whose name they all share. blends into the story. A year ago, restaurateurs and Suffolk residents Brian and Teresa Mullins set out to correct that loss by naming their new North Suffolk businesses Amedeo’s Italian Ristorante and Amedeo’s Bakery.

In April, the business couple celebrated the restaurant and bakery’s first anniversary with a toast to Amedeo Obici – a dinner party for three dozen locals who share fond memories of the man.

Diners remember the story of the preteen who left Oderzo, Italy in 1889 to travel alone to the United States. Young Amedeo Obici arrived in New York with a Scranton, PA address tag pinned to his jacket and speaking no English. His uncle had encouraged Obici’s widowed mother to send the boy to Scranton and facilitate his struggles to support Amedeo and his three younger siblings in Oderzo.

They also remember that same brave boy becoming the famous Peanut King who shared his hard-earned fortune with Suffolk, Oderzo and countless others. Amedeo Obici’s legacy lies in the recognition he brought to Suffolk, his continued benevolence and a life story that reads like a novel.

It was this legacy that the Mullins hoped to bring to light. Vintage photos from Obici’s life, a gift from his few remaining relatives, line the walls of the restaurant’s banquet hall. A colorful painting, distinctive among the black and white photos, is a reproduction of one of Obici’s favorites which hung in his mansion on the River Nansemond in Suffolk.

The dinner menu reads like a cafe in Oderzo — or the dining room at the Obici House in Sleepy Hole. Starting with a garden salad and the traditional Italian appetizer Filetto Carpaccio – thinly sliced ​​tenderloin dressed with Dijon aioli, Grano Padano cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and arugula – diners enjoyed veal chop, pesto pappardelle of basil and a chicken saltimbocca topped with Amedeo’s tiramisu and a nod to local cuisine – Lilly Farms strawberry shortcake.

It was a meal fit for the occasion, a gathering of Peanut royalty as Tom Powell, chairman of the Addison Group and host of the evening, addressed the guests. Among the guests was George Birdsong of Birdsong Peanuts, the century-old peanut processor who transports peanuts from the fields to the final manufacturers of peanut products. He credits Obici, when Birdsong’s bombing factory in Courtland burned down in 1939, with enabling the Birdsongs to move their business from Courtland to Suffolk to work in concert with the Planters Peanuts of Obici.

Two other guests, Doug and Mary Jane Naismith, have been actively involved in Suffolk’s Sister Cities International since its inception 40 years ago. The non-profit program aims to promote understanding and unite people around the world. Suffolk has had sister city relationships with Oderzo, Italy, Obici’s birthplace, as well as Suffolk County, England, since 1995, according to Mary Jane Naismith.

Doug Naismith, retired headteacher of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, recalls that the people of Oderzo were as keen as the Suffolk Sister Cities group to formalize their connection. When the Italians arrived in Suffolk for the first exchange visit, they were eager to see Obici’s house, belongings and all that concerned him.

Naismith explained that while many early 1900s immigrants from Italy struggled for long years to earn a decent living, Amedeo Obici “did a home run”, he said. “Because of that, he was a hero and a man to celebrate in Oderzo.”

Obici’s popularity there increased further when he donated a new wing to Oderzo Hospital. On the return exchange visit, the Naismiths were in Oderzo when a statue of Mr Peanut, a gift from the Sister Towns of Suffolk, stood outside Oderzo Vocational School named after Amedeo Obici .

Two other dinner guests, Elizabeth Dalzell and Ken Kramer, came from Haddonfield, New Jersey. Dalzell is Obici’s great-great-grandniece, a relationship that inspired the couple to spend years researching Obici family history. Photos of the restaurant are from their collection and include several previously unseen photos in the Suffolk area.

Meeting so many people who appreciated his uncle Amedeo was a pleasure, Dalzell said, adding “it means a lot to see my family in all the pictures that line the walls here.”
Because Obici was a lover of animals, from goats and rabbits to bears, the animal-loving Mullins decided to start a fundraiser in his name. Sales of a specially created cocktail, The Greyhound, have generated funds for the James River Greyhounds, a rescue group that places 75 retired racing Greyhounds each year into new homes as pets.

Sue and Jim Maloney, of Dawn, Va., and representing the James River Greyhounds, were on hand to receive the contribution. Their adopted greyhound, Tabi (short for his Tabloid racing name Tabi) convinced the couple that retired racers can also be great pets.

The Mullins were happy to see so many people celebrating Amedeo Obici and enjoying dinner at their new restaurant. The couple, as M&M Hospitality Group, also own Vintage Tavern, River Stone Chop House and Decoy’s Seafood and plan to open a new restaurant, Cork & Bull, in Chesapeake’s new Summit Pointe development in the fall. .

The Mullins are also property developers and know the Suffolk area well.
“Brian and I have been here for a while,” Teresa Mullins said. “We know the story of how Amedeo Obici and Planters brought recognition to Suffolk.”

If you want to learn more about Amedeo Obici, watch for a new book about his incredible life and business acumen. The Birdsong Charitable Foundation and the Obici Healthcare Foundation are co-sponsoring the book, which is scheduled for release in 2023.

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