Italian kitchenware specialist Gene Vitantonio, who spearheaded the growth of Vitantonio Mfg. and later co-founded VillaWare Mfg., died recently. He was 88.
Vitantonio spent more than 40 years in housewares product design and manufacture, retiring in 2004.
“There are many who will fondly recall Gene from his nearly 100 trade show exhibitions,” said Robert Vitantonio, Gene’s son and former president of VillaWare. “I can assure you that those exhibitions, in spite of the hard work, were some of his greatest times. His enthusiasm to get out and meet all of you, and to see what was new, was unbounded. One of our foreign suppliers just expressed to me, ‘I remember your father very clearly like movie.’ That is how vivid his memory is now, like a movie.”
Gene Vitantonio’s housewares career began in 1956 when he joined his father, Luigi, at the family’s Vitantonio Mfg. Co. From Cleveland’s Little Italy, the company manufactured kitchen products for Italian cooking, primarily hand-operated noodle machines. Luigi Vitantonio had been in the business since 1920, and, in 1906, Gene’s grandfather, Angelo, received the first United States patent for a noodle machine.
Gene Vitantonio in the 1970s designed the company’s first electric kitchen products, including pizzelle bakers and Belgian waffler makers, and in the 1980s, the company began to serve the gourmet kitchenware store market. In 1986, Gene Vitantonio left the Vitantonio Mfg. Co. and together with his three sons started the VillaWare Mfg. Co., which in 2000, introduced the UNO series of waffle bakers to Williams-Sonoma.
Tilia Corp. subsequently acquired VillaWare. Tilia was later acquired by Jarden Corp.