August 9 – Happy Birthday Madeline Duchessi

Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant created a direct link between two of our City’s better-known Italian-American clans. Madeline Lanzi was the daughter of the Southside Restauranteur, Luigi Lanzi. She was born August 9, 1922 and grew up working alongside her two brothers and two sisters in their father’s iconic Bridge Street Restaurant. The lot behind the eatery was as famous as the restaurant itself. That’s where some of the greatest amateur and professional prize fights in Rug City history were staged during the pre WWII era. In 1935, one of the fighters who began appearing on those amateur fight cards was a young man named Pete Duchessi. His nickname was “Duke” and it fit him well because it turned out he was more than pretty good with his dukes, winning 57 of his 71 career fights, including a six round skirmish with the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson.

Amsterdam’s original “Duke” was five years older than Madeline Lanzi but that age gap didn’t prevent the two from falling in love. Injuries suffered in an auto accident had kept Pete from serving in WWII so the couple were able to get married in 1943 and Pete assisted the war effort welding parts for the military at the ALCO plant in Schenectady. But the end of the war brought an end to that job and a laid-off Pete, with help from Madeline’s Uncle opened a new store in downtown Amsterdam that like Luigi Lanzi’s restaurant would become one of the Rug City’s iconic food businesses. It was located at 128 East Main Street and was called Duchessi’s Importing Co. and for the next three decades it became the place to go  for imported culinary delicacies including olive oil and cheeses from Italy, oranges from Israel and melons from Spain. Duke’s fresh meats and a full assortment of fresh seafood offerings also became standard fare for dinner tables all around town. I clearly remember the fruit and vegetable stand in front of the store being maintained so well that it looked as if an artist had staged it.

Madeline and Duke dedicated their lives to running that store and raising their daughter Linda and son Peter Jr. Then in the 1970’s the wrecking balls invaded and destroyed Amsterdam’s old downtown so it could be replaced with an indoor mall. Duchessi’s Importing Co. was the last business to leave. The couple then purchased the former Dean’s Market on Lincoln Avenue and kept the business going there until 1981.

Her husband then continued his remarkably long and distinguished food career with Golub Corporation, while Madeline spent the rest of her life caring for grandchildren, reading good books, listening to beautiful music, traveling and cooking for her family. Her grandson Chris worked with me for a while and would enthrall me and make me hungry with stories about his grandmother’s talents in the kitchen.

Madeline’s wonderful 74-year marriage ended in 2017 with Pete Duchessi’s death at the age of 99. A year and a half later, 97-year-old Madeline rejoined her beloved soulmate. They were one of Amsterdam’s all-time most admired husband and wife teams.

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