Petrucci’s is country home barbecue
Walking up to The Old School House on Howard Road in Madera to order a tri-tip sandwich is like walking into a family kitchen. The moment customers catch a whiff of barbecue from the outdoor wood-burning pit, they know they’re home.
The restaurant will take a break over the winter and looks to re-open in March. The final bell in 2016 for the old schoolhouse will sound Saturday. The restaurant will be open from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
The mission-style restaurant was once a real schoolhouse, where a young Dino Petrucci learned to read and write. Years later, Petrucci bought the building and turned it into a barbecue restaurant.
Petrucci didn’t start out as a cook. He was a farmer and teacher by occupation and profession.
After graduating from Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, he returned to the Valley — to his home — to teach agricultural education.
The cooking started as a hobby. And by the time it was time to retire after 40 years of teaching, he was ready to move on to his next career.
“He wasn’t able to be retired,” Petrucci’s granddaughter Mika Petrucci said. “He wasn’t happy doing nothing.” And so Dino Petrucci committed himself to his catering and barbecue business. People from all over the Central Valley still stop by the barbecue pit on Saturdays for tri-tip sandwiches.
Mika remembers how much her grandfather loved cooking, and said he enjoyed barbecue specifically because of how welcoming it was.
“He liked cooking in general,” Mika said. “He just always thought of it as a pastime and he loved to cook for other people.”
At the barbecue pit, Petrucci’s motto was simple — make good food and better memories. His customers were family, and he made sure they knew it.
Teri Skinner, 67, has been a family friend for more than 40 years. She said Petrucci “was the most generous person and most loving person.” His former students continued to visit him long after they left his classroom.
“He’d open the door. They’d come in and they’d talk, and it just made Dino’s day,” Skinner said.
In 2008, Petrucci began experiencing health problems, and his family found it too difficult to keep the businesses going.
“It was just a little too much for my mom to coordinate everything because, at the time ,I wasn’t old enough to help,” Mika Petrucci said. “We ended up closing the restaurant, closing the catering business, and we also closed the barbecue pit on Saturdays.”
They reopened the barbecue pit when Petrucci recovered about a year later.
After spending most of 2015 in and out of the hospital, Petrucci died in January 2016. Three months later, his wife, Mika’s grandmother, passed away.
“This has been a very trying year for us,” Mika said. “In terms of losing my Nonno (grandfather) in January and then my grandmother three months later in April, it’s been overwhelming.”
The loss is felt by more than Petrucci’s immediate family. Julio Cabrera, 40, has been working at Petrucci’s for more than 20 years. “One thing he told me one time, he said ‘I’m going to treat you like a father.’ Can you believe that? I said, ‘Well, I accept.’”
But loyal employees and customers aren’t enough to keep the business going. As they did eight years earlier, the family discussed temporarily closing the restaurant.
“My mom and I thought about it long and hard and just decided that the barbecue is not as popular in the winter,” Mika said. “And so this may be a good time to rest and recover and focus our energy somewhere else.”
They opted to close for the winter, a decision that was not made lightly. During the break, the Petruccis plan on expanding retail locations for Petrucci’s Secret Sauce and Petrucci’s Seasoning, both long-popular products.
Although Mika says leaving their customers is the most difficult part, she wants to reassure them that this is not goodbye. Mika says she and her mother, Dina Petrucci, will reopen the restaurant in March and “be ready to hit the ground running.”
As difficult as the decision was to close for the winter, Mika said, it was just as easy to decide to reopen in the spring.
“Now it’s just kind of my mom’s and my way of honoring my grandparents — honoring my grandfather’s vision and legacy and just making good food and even better memories.”