Joseph Troia was born April 13, 1904 in Palermo, Sicily, Italy to Vincent (Vicenzo) Troia (1863-1955) and Rosa Bologna Troia (1870-1935). He had four brothers and a sister.
At age 10 he took up the occupation of a barber and would earn his living as a barber for 40 years. He had good memories of his life growing up in a small village outside of Palermo.
The death of one of his brothers during World War I convinced his parents to follow two of his brothers to America. Joe, his parents and a brother and sister came to New York on the S. S. Regina D’Italia. They arrived on December 21, 1920. They immediately traveled to his brother’s new home on Gladwin Street in Detroit.
For the next few years he took barbering jobs in New York and Philadelphia. In 1925, his brothers set him up in his own shop on McDougall near Mack, which only was a few blocks from their home. He still couldn’t speak any English but at that time, this area was primarily an Italian neighborhood.
After two years he moved to a location in downtown Detroit. He moved several times before moving into a shop in the Fisher Building and stayed 10 years.
Joe lived with his parents until sometime after his father’s death. His mother, Rosa, was struck by a car on Christmas Eve in 1935 as she exited St. Rose Church and died the day after Christmas. Several years after her death, he moved to Harrison Township in Macomb County near Jefferson Avenue and the lake and went to work as a barber for Joe Rizzo.
He registered for the draft in February 1942 but was not drafted.
After World War II, Joe met and married Mildred Marie Harris Letchtweiss on October 21, 1947 in Detroit. Joe and Mildred did not have any children.
Joe’s dad died in 1955. It was after Vincent’s death that he bought four acres of land in Almont. The property was located between “King’s Mill” and the “Ebeling Dairy”. He constructed an 18 foot by 24 foot building and opened his pizza business. He and Mildred lived in the upstairs apartment. He later added four apartments to the building. This was the first pizza place in the area-one of the first in the State.
I remember the first time we stopped at Troia’s to get a pizza. My parents had heard good things about this new restaurant. As we got out of the car, we were greeted by this wonderful, yet unknown, aroma. As we entered the restaurant, the aroma became even more intense. The smell drew you in and made you very hungry.
We went in and sat at one of the few tables in the front of the restaurant. Joe Troia immediately came over to greet us. My parents explained that they had heard good things about the restaurant but they knew nothing about pizza. Pizza was brought to America by GI’s returning from Italy after World War II. Our pizza came from a real Italian. Joe went into a simple but complete explanation of pizza. He even brought a pizza out to the table, which had just come out of the oven and was for a “take-out” order. He explained the options and we ordered.
While we were waiting for the pizza to be cooked, Joe came back to the table with a Polaroid camera and took a couple of pictures. It was the first Polaroid camera that I had seen and it was amazing to have the photograph available in little over a minute. Joe then posted the photos on the wall next to his other photos. Each time you went into Troia’s, one of the things you always did was look over the wall to see what new photos had been added. As a historian, I have wondered what happened to all those fabulous pictures. They represented a snapshot in time of not only the Almont community but also of the entire surrounding area because people came from all the nearby communities to eat at Troia’s.
As we sat there, we had to endure that marvelous aroma and just got more and more hungry. Joe brought the pizza to the table and then explained how a true “Italian” would eat their pizza. You would take a slice, roll the slice from the crust end, and then eat the “rolled-up” slice like a hot dog. Oh, did it taste good.
Once I got into high school, Troia’s was a popular place to go on a Friday night after a football or basketball game. In my case, more often than not, I would order “take-out” because the dining room was always packed. Troia’s pizza became the staple of many of our parties. Cindie and my first dinner date was to go to Troia’s where Cindie had her first pizza.
In 1976, Joe stepped away from the day-to-day operations of the restaurant and sold the business a few years later. The restaurant retained the name Troia’s Pizza Place but the pizza wasn’t the same.
After nearly 34 years of marriage, Mildred passed away on July 18, 1981 at Community Hospital and was buried in West Berlin Cemetery in Allenton.
Joe married for a second time on October 19, 1984. He and Josephine settled into retirement in St. Clair Shores. They went out to dinner two or three times a week, visited friends and occasionally went bowling (Josephine bowled and Joe watched). About once a month he returned to Almont to visit with friends.
On July 15, 1996, Joe died in Detroit and was laid to rest next to Mildred in West Berlin Cemetery.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or jrwade49@ gmail.com or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.