October is Italian American Month
Joseph James “Joe” Spinelli was born in Middleton, Connecticut, in 1941 and was named after his Italian immigrant grandfather. His father George began as a cook in a Meridian, Connecticut, restaurant and progressed to owning his own restaurant. Cooking was in Joe’s blood; when they moved to Central Florida in 1971, he and wife Diane opened Spinelli’s Restaurant in St. Cloud.
The menu was filled with Spinelli dishes – Pollo Alla Spinelli, Spinelli’s Minestroneand a favorite, Spinelli’s Italian dressing, developed by Joe’s father. Some recipes Joe shared, but not the dressing. He once gave a list of the ingredients in order of quantity and said “a little experimentation will produce agreeable results.”
Spinelli’s was well known for its offering of fine wines and winning awards for its outstanding wines. In 1982, Joe started a 30-acre vineyard and by 1986 had a 200-seat restaurant in Melbourne, Florida (opened in 1984), the St. Cloud restaurant and the vineyard. His decision to close the St. Cloud location saddened many throughout the county.
By 1990, Joe had 40 varieties of grapes growing. Several varieties of his grapes were sold in local Publix stores but in addition to the grapes and wine, he owned a nursery where he bred plants for sale to American and foreign markets. His annual harvest parties at the vineyard off Nova Road were a popular event.
Joe Spinelli died from injuries suffered in an auto accident on October 23, 1995. He was a wine broker, owner of Spinelli Vineyards, member of Eagles, Knights of Columbus, Moose Lodge and St. Cloud Jaycees, as well as being a member of Florida Grape Growers Association.
Sources: Ancestry.com; “The Orlando Sentinel” 1976-1995 issues