From Rocks to Riches and Back Again: Acclaimed Restaurateur is Subject of New Book

Style Magazine Newswire | 6/30/2023, 12:44 p.m.
“I always felt stories like Joe Costanzo’s and The Primadonna Restaurant are so important to tell.” – Rocky Bleier, Former …
On the Rocks Publisher: Koehler Books Release Date: August 8, 2023 ISBN-13: ‎979-8-88824-027-4 (soft cover) ISBN-13: 979-8-88824-029-8 (hard cover) ISBN-13: 979-8-88824-028-1 (e-book) Available for pre-order from and at the Senator John Heinz History Center

On the Rocks opens a door to the past and welcomes readers into The Primadonna, where restaurateur Joseph Costanzo, Jr., treated neighborhood regulars with the same warmth and hospitality with which he greeted the likes of Danny Aiello, Jamie Lee Curtis and Tommy Lasorda.

Written from Costanzo’s perspective by his daughter Maria C. Palmer and co-author Ruthie Robbins, On the Rocks dishes up heaping helpings of nostalgia, with entertaining stories of quirky characters, delectable dishes, great memories and enduring friendships from a time when dining out was an experience to savor.

Known for its signature Southern Italian dishes that nourished stomachs and souls, The Primadonna’s generous portion sizes were eclipsed only by Costanzo’s larger-than-life personality, explains Palmer.

“The moment that you walked in, regardless of how busy we were, my dad was at the front of the house, and he was greeting you,” Palmer recalled during a recent interview. “My dad was invested in customers. He wanted to be part of people’s lives. I think that’s what makes this experience so memorable. People loved being special.”

On the Rocks traces Costanzo’s unlikely rise from a postal worker with an impossible dream to owner of a nationally acclaimed restaurant, where the often 2-hour wait times only served to brew deeper connections, adding to the familial appeal of a community hotspot united by Costanzo’s drive to turn the blue collar burb of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, into a sought-out destination for fine Italian dining.

But Costanzo’s dream comes at a cost, and as the story unfolds, readers follow him from the day-to-day frenzy of a wildly popular restaurant, through a failed attempt to run for public office, to life behind bars.

“The restaurant was like his third child; it was the son he never had,” Palmer reflected. “He was at the top of his game when everything spiraled out of control. That’s what makes this story so rich. He really did the impossible. He took this nothing, failing business and turned it into this diamond in the rough. Then it all got pulled away. Just as fast as it rose, it fell.”