TOODY’S RETURNS TO WATER STREET

21Apr07

Owner Richie Canto is sitting in a booth in the dining room of the new Toody’s restaurant at 49 Water Street in Wakefield, Massachusetts. It’s approaching the 3 p.m. Saturday closing time, and the double lines still stretch from the counter almost out the door.

“It’s been like this every day for five or six weeks,” Canto says. “It’s a phenomenon.”

Richie Canto is the son of Toody Canto, the founding owner for whom the restaurant is named. The original Toody’s location at 109 Water Street closed unceremoniously in 2005. But clearly an absence of a year and a half has only magnified the legend of the eatery that Sal “Toody” Canto and his brother-in-law Paul D’Amico founded on Water Street 61 years ago.

After looking around for a new location, Richie Canto ultimately purchased the old Daddy’s Donuts building on Water Street. He and his sons, Zachary and Alex, did all the construction and remodeling themselves, working 12-17 hours a day over the last several months. Canto hired local contractors to handle the more specialized jobs like HVAC and electrical work.

“We just wanted to keep it local,” Canto says, “these people are our customers.”

Canto says that the overwhelming response to the return of Toody’s has been entirely a result of word of mouth. They’ve done no advertising, and the article you are reading right now is the first public announcement since the shop opened at the new location six weeks ago.

Canto recalls the first morning that they opened, still exhausted from finishing up construction the night before.

“Once we put an ‘open’ sign in the window,” Canto says, “there were six or seven people outside on cell phones saying, ‘Hey, we’re at Toody’s – they’re open!’ The first day, we ran out of food at 5 o’clock. The second day, we ran out at 6 o’clock. The lines were out the door. It’s been a pleasant surprise. We’ve had an overwhelming response to reopening.”

They did get some unsolicited free plugs on Boston radio station WBCN during the first week they were open. ‘BCN mid-day DJ (and Wakefield native) Adam 12 got wind of the fact that Toody’s was back. “He was plugging us for days on end,” Canto says.

The new location is bigger and has more seating and more parking than the old shop. But Canto also wanted to bring in some of the feel of the old Toody’s. One way he did that was to incorporate an old-style tin ceiling and granite counters. Canto says he wanted to create a special feeling for his customers.

“I wanted it to feel like they were back home again,” Canto says. “Toody’s is Wakefield’s hometown restaurant. It really is as much a part of town as the bandstand. We successfully brought a contemporary building to a warm, Victorian feel,” Canto says.

“Everybody seems to be excited about the way it came out. They’re startled at the way it looks because they’re not expecting that for a sandwich shop. Toody’s has always been a cut above,” Canto added. “We have a strong tradition and we wanted it to be that way at the new location.”

As Canto talks, customers continuously stop by the booth to thank and congratulate him. Wakefield native Jane Myers Donahue drove from her current home in Groveland just to pick up dinner for her family.

“I’m just glad they’re back,” Donahue says.

Canto says they’ve received “awesome praise from everybody. You couldn’t pay anyone from Madison Avenue to come up with this kind of advertising.”

Canto has incorporated some of the original items from the original Toody’s location, including the original steam kettle that his father used to make the tomato sauce. The menu items are all the same, and they still prepare the foods with the same care and attention to detail.

“The cache of the name ‘Toody’s’ has people coming back for more,” Canto says. “We use the finest foods we can get. People can be sure they’re getting a top quality product at a very reasonable price. I like to coin the phrase, ‘restaurant quality food at sub shop prices.’ We do everything the same way my father did it for the last 61 years.”

Symbolizing the continuity of the business, the menu board above the take-out counter features large portraits of Canto’s parents, Toody and Josephine. Their images oversee the operation and greet the customers as they wait in line.

“Some of the old-timers come in and get a tear in their eye,” Canto says.

Canto has expanded the business to include some catering, and notes that holiday party platters are available, featuring such Toody’s staples as meatballs, peppers and onions and cutlets.

Canto employs ten people, all of whom are local residents. There are also several employees from the old store.

Original co-owner, Toody Canto, died in 2001, but his business partner and brother-in-law, Paul D’Amico, now 93, still lives on Wakefield Avenue, around the corner from both the old and the new Toody’s locations. Paul D’Amico is credited with inventing the submarine sandwich.

After Toody died, Richie and his brother, Bob Canto, ran the old store with the help of other family members. Bob passed away in 2003.

Another customer finishes his meal and stops by to say hello to Richie Canto. John Leone and Canto have been friends since they were kids growing up on Armory Street. Leone says that there are no words that can explain the phenomenon of Toody’s.

“It’s part of growing up in Wakefield,” Leone says. “It’s a testament to Richie’s pride in the establishment and the family name. It means more to him than just a living.”

It’s easy to see why. Richie Canto was born on August 26, 1945 – one day before his father’s store opened for business.

“I can honestly say that I’ve been in the business all my life,” Richie Canto says with a smile. “I think my mother and father would be quite happy with the way it turned out.”

(This story originally appeared in the Wakefield Daily Item)

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8 Responses to “TOODY’S RETURNS TO WATER STREET”

  1. 1 Andrea C.

    I just want to express how happy I am for the Canto’s. Toody’s is a great sucess and as it approaches its one year anniversary back, I feel that it will be around for the next 61 years!! Congratualtions Canto Family!! Toody’s is WONDERFUL and timeless!!

  2. 3 a guy whos knows

    THE CANTOS DID NOT INVENT THE SUBMARINE SANDWHICH IT WAS INVENTED IN CONN. ABOUT TENS YEARS BEFORE THEY TOOK CLAIM…..LOOK IT UP

  3. 4 patrick

    they did not invent the submarine….it was invent like 15 yrs before they took claim…it was invent in 1913 near the navel shipyards in conn. look it up….and anyone can make a “proclomation” on photoshop and then someone to notarise it

  4. 5 Mark Sardella

    Whatever. Can we just let a 95 year old man take credit for inventing the submarine andwich and read about it in his local newspaper?

  5. 6 patrick

    well shouldnt a jornalist print true stories

  6. 7 Someone who knows more than "A guy who knows".

    Only certain members of the Canto family claim Paul D’amico invented the “sub” sandwich. Others felt, without proof we should not make that claim. What I do know is, Paul D’amico knew nothing about what types of sandwiches people where making in other parts of the country. The sandwich he created was of his own design. After he created it he said “It looks like a torpedo”. So if they where being made somewhere else he didn’t know about it. When the food was done right, it was the best around. That is a valid claim.

    • 8 Dudley

      I used to work for Richie Canto when he opened a Toody’s in Haverhill. He had a framed certificate from the Massachusetts legislature acknowledging his relative coining the phrase “submarine sandwich”. So whether or not people were making similar sandwiches or even using that name, he can legitimately claim lineage to the trademark, if you will, of the sub.


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