Youngstown Italian Fest: More than Food and Fun

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – It began 37 years ago, after a group of Italian Americans decided they wanted to honor their heritage.

Today, the Greater Youngstown Italian Fest draws thousands each year to downtown.

The festival opens today along Central Square and East Federal Street and runs through Sunday.

As setup for this year’s event finished up Thursday afternoon, John Rossetti, chairman, said he hopes it draws people downtown and lets older residents relive memories.

“The Italian Americans helped build this Valley, and whenever you talk to a family member or friend that was here in the ’40s, ’50s [or] ’60s, they remember downtown Youngstown, with the Italian stores on the corners,” he said. “There is nothing like a good old-fashioned street festival.”

This year’s event includes more than 30 food vendors and restaurants. There will also be nearly two dozen craft and merchandise vendors.

The entertainment stage will be in the 140-foot wine and beer tent.

“It will have continuous music and events going on, including a hot pepper contest, hot peppers in oil and homemade wine contest, a Morra contest on Friday night and all kinds of music,” Rossetti said.

The only major difference this year is there will be only one stage instead of two. That’s because the asbestos remediation underway in the 20 Federal Place building made much of that block off-limits.

“It worked out well,” Rossetti said. “We extended the tent to 140 feet, so people have plenty of room inside to sit under the tent so they don’t get too hot.”

Rossetti expects 3,000 to 3,500 attendees per day, weather permitting.

The festival is partnering with Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, 15 Central Square.

“They’re open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday,” Rossetti said. “They’ll have all the kids’ entertainment and stuff for the children, and it’s air conditioned, so you get a break from the sun and the heat.”

The festival is about more than just fun and food.

“The main objective is to promote our Italian American heritage and provide donations to Mahoning Valley charities, and we have been able to give over $100,000 worth of scholarships since our inception to Youngstown State University students,” Rossetti said.

This year the foundation gave $9,000 worth of scholarships. An additional $12,000 will be given to local charities and organizations, including the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley, Oh Wow and the Boardman and Canfield High School Italian clubs.

Diana Mullen, co-owner of Shirley’s Steak and Sausage, flips burgers.

Diana Mullen, co-owner of Shirley’s Steak and Sausage, was working her food stand Thursday afternoon with her husband and family. The stand offers chopped sirloin steak burgers and spicy Italian sausage.

Mullen said they have had a stand at the festival for several years.

“I think we came here the first year they moved it back downtown [from the Canfield Fairgrounds],” she said. “It is always a good time. There are always a lot of people.”

Shirley’s, based in New Springfield, travels to local fairs and festivals around the Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia areas.

“We do about 20 events in a season,” Mullen said. “We have been doing it since the ’50s, so it’s a family tradition.”

Mullen said she is happy to be able to be a part of showing off the downtown area.

“We love being close to our hometown,” she said.

Justine Paris is an oven baker for Grandma Lamana’s Stromboli.

Justine Paris, oven baker at Grandma Lamana’s Stromboli stand, said all of their strombolis are made fresh. The stand offers veggie, pepperoni, meatball, salami and more.

Paris was surprised by the Thursday lunch hour turnout and expects attendance will continue to be strong.

“Today, I wasn’t expecting a lot because it’s not open to the public, but there are actually a lot of people down here,” she said.

The festival will run from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 1 to 11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5 per person. Children 12 and younger are admitted free if accompanied by an adult.

Pictured at top: John Rossetti, chairman of the Greater Youngstown Italian Fest and trustee of the Italian Heritage Foundation of Youngstown.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.