Matriarchs of Main and Elm

Recent Articles

Love, Laughter and Lasagna: At the Table with Nancy Colella

[This is the final installment in a four-part series “Matriarchs of Main & Elm,” published in December 2015 and profiling the women behind New Canaan’s great business families.]

Annunziata Colella—known to locals by her Americanized name, “Nancy”—on Tuesday afternoon sat at her long family dinner table in the kitchen of this brick exterior ranch-style house on Main Street, the family’s home since she moved in with a young daughter and husband in 1974. She rested her hands atop a poinsettia tablecloth set with fresh yellow lilies, the doorway connecting to the living room beyond adorned with garlands draped around columns, potted poinsettias on side and coffee tables, tall candleholders in the form of angels placed on the floor, and large framed family photos on a fireplace mantle, beside Christmas cards and stockings. Complimented on her holiday décor, Nancy shook her head and said in the Neapolitan accent that she’s had since she arrived in the United States—and started learning English—in 1971: “Oh, thank you, but this is nothing. I’ve hardly done anything.”

On the contrary. Resilient, warm, intelligent and resourceful, Nancy Colella—wife of Giuseppe “Joe” Colella, founder of Joe’s Pizza—for nearly a half-century has conducted herself at home and at work with a sense of pride, responsibility and commitment that’s transformed a mom-and-pop pizza shop into a cherished New Canaan fixture. Continue Reading →

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Icon and Inspiration: Lydia Franco O’Neil, At the Store and Behind the Mousse Cake

[This is the third installment in a four-part series “Matriarchs of Main & Elm,” profiling the women behind New Canaan’s great business families.]

Thomas George Franco II—‘Tom,’ as he’s known today on Elm Street, site of the family’s eponymous wine and liquor shop, a fixture of downtown New Canaan for nearly a century—recalls the challenge he faced as a young man in 1975, trying to acclimate back to civilian life upon being discharged from the Army following a three-year tour during the Vietnam War. Fortunately for the newly made U.S. Army veteran, Tom was one of 11 Franco siblings—all students of St. Aloysius School and graduates of New Canaan Public Schools—who knew a remarkable woman named Lydia Franco O’Neil as ‘Aunt Lee.’

At the time, Aunt Lee had a condominium in Florida with her husband, longtime local U.S. Postal Service worker Bill O’Neil, and the plan was for Tom to drive her down to the Sunshine State so that she could have a car there, and he would fly back. “That was the perfect reintroduction back into civilian life,” Tom recalled on a recent evening. “We talked all the way down—about Uncle Bill, the family, what I was going to do now, and just things in general. Continue Reading →

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Faith, Family and Fierce on the Court: Rose Kelley Karl

[This is the second installment in a four-part series “Matriarchs of Main & Elm,” profiling the women behind New Canaan’s great business families.]

New Canaan’s Sara Schubert can remember walking through the woods as an 8-year-old girl to visit her grandmother, Rose Karl, at the Carter Street home that the family had built in 1926—the same year Rose’s own father, Henry Kelley, laid the cornerstone at the “new” New Canaan High School, now the police department. There, the woman whose leadership, wisdom and commitment to loved ones would make an indelible mark on an iconic New Canaan business and family, greeted young Sara with freshly baked cookies, milk and—characteristically—meaningful conversation. “I knew I wanted to be a school teacher, get married someday and have kids, and Grandma always told me that it should happen in that order,” Sara recalled on a recent afternoon. “She also told me to have a backup plan in case computers took over a teacher’s job, and this was back in the ‘70s. She was always so insightful, grounded and forward-thinking.”

One of 15 children born at the turn of the century to the prominent Kelley family of Carter Street, Rose would marry Leo Karl, Sr. at St. Continue Reading →

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Audrey Stewart: Matriarch of the Market

[This is the first installment in a four-part series “Matriarchs of Main & Elm,” profiling the women behind New Canaan’s great business families.]

Audrey Bailey Stewart had recently married Walter Stewart, Sr. when the young couple moved in with her husband’s parents—Walter Stewart, who had founded his eponymous food market on Main Street in 1907 and his rather formidable wife, Nellie, New Canaan’s first woman elected to the state legislature—at the Hoyt Street home that’s still in the family. A smart, strong-willed woman in her own right, Audrey didn’t always have an easy time living with the in-laws and “she didn’t always get along with Nellie,” family historian Karen Brockway Izzo said, recalling one funny story from her grandmother. “Once, Nellie told her that she didn’t like the color purple,” Izzo recalled. “Grandmother apparently had a bit of a rebellious streak, and after a disagreement, painted her entire apartment purple. Even the bathroom.”

After meeting her would-be husband through a chance encounter after taking in a movie at the (then relatively new) New Canaan Playhouse on Elm Street while still a teenager, Audrey Stewart would go on to immerse herself in one of the town’s most important and civic-minded business families. From humble beginnings and acquainted with tragedy even as a young girl, Audrey Stewart would go on to forge a definitive and direct positive impact on the family business during a crucial period of growth, while rearing and raising an entire generation of Stewarts well known to locals. Continue Reading →

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