Corrections or additions?

This feature by Kelly Beamon was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

October 21, 1998. All rights reserved.

Timothy’s: Smart Move In the Burg?

by Kelly Beamon

No Italian cuisine, no Frank Sinatra, and a dummy —

a real ventriloquist dummy — named Timothy to oversee it all.

In fact Timothy’s, the latest addition to the historic Chambersburg

restaurant district, has nothing you’d expect from an area known for

its fine Italian dining. And that’s just the unlikely juxtaposition

that owner Marie Cascone Rotunda thinks should make it a winning

restaurant

formula.

"We put an Irish steak place in an Italian restaurant

district,"

said Rotunda, not unstruck by the irony of the mahogany,

meat-and-potatoes

restaurant smack in a locale reminiscent of marble and fountains.

"The ‘Burg is already full of Frank Sinatra," she says, in

a backhand summation of Timothy’s appeal. "Besides, you can’t

believe how many people eat steaks." And you won’t believe how

many adult diners love being greeted by a ventriloquist’s dummy.

"You don’t see that sort of entertainment anymore. Years ago you

used to see it on TV," says her husband, Ronnie Rotunda, as if

trying to explain the appeal. And if having that as the restaurant’s

theme sounds like a dummy’s idea, that’s because it is. And Marie

Rotunda, who is flawlessly made up and impeccably coiffed, routinely

walks around greeting customers with her dummy Timothy on her arm

to prove it. It’s his highly visible role in the operation role that

gives the restaurant its quirky claim to fame — the world’s only

restaurant owned and operated by a real dummy.

"It’s true. I called the National Association of Ventriloquists,

and they say this is a first," she says proudly pointing out the

walls of photos sent by other ventriloquists who applauded the special

spot ahead of its grand opening last month.

It’s her talent for working with him that she thinks give the

restaurant

a certain edge. "We sent a call out over the Internet and we

started

getting photos two months before we opened," Rotunda says.

"They’re

not all up yet." And here and there between the well-wishers are

images of a younger Rotunda and Timothy, proof that this unlikely

business pair have prospered before.

"I traveled 15,000 miles a month in my 20s as Miss

Pennsylvania,"

says Rotunda. "I also opened for Liberace and the Osmonds and

was a finalist in the Miss America Pageant."

Timothy even helped her beat out future film star Sharon Stone, an

also-ran in the Miss Pennsylvania Pageant who in a 1994 interview

criticized Rotunda, "the girl who won," as being

"callous"

and "intimidating the other girls."

Ironically, her scathing remarks came the same year Rotunda, then

Cascone, was awarded the Italian-American Hall of Fame Humanitarian

Award, even though as she points out she’s Irish. Cascone is her first

husband’s name.

Nonetheless, Rotunda cheerily laminated newspaper clips of Stone’s

unkind words, and enjoys pointing out that when "Stone got married

around the same time I did last year, she wore a crown on her

head."

The actress’ photo hangs just inside the new restaurant’s door above

a plaque reading "persona non grata."

Success back in the ’70s has now boiled down to one thing for Rotunda:

Timothy. She bought the original dummy by mail order — she now

owns three — after she found a book on ventriloquism in a

Philadelphia

magic shop and studied it with the express purpose of becoming Miss

Pennsylvania. Nothing was left to chance, she says, except the way

Timothy looked. It was only after failing to get a raise she requested

as a newly graduated 23-year-old saleswoman for the Bucks County

Courier-Times,

that Rotunda planned to enter the contest. It worked.

"I just ordered Timothy out of a book, not knowing what he was

going to look like. And it was just that nobody else could do Timothy.

It was a way to get ahead," says Rotunda.

Nothing has changed. Timothy is helping improve her chances for

success.

He even planned the menu, recommending the "Moon Over Miami"

coconut shrimp," "Steam It Up Scotty" garlic clams, stuffed

crown filet mignon and a 24-ounce porterhouse sirloin steak.

And although she understates it, Timothy’s appeal makes better

business

sense than you might think. "Customers like the contrast of my

(polished) image and the dummy. And no one else can do Timothy. You

just have to be humorous. This can have a very long staying

power,"

she says. It’s true the unlikely combination of the pretty lady and

her kid dummy appeals to customers.

Still, like the contest the restaurant business is its own gamble,

this time costing her and Ronnie about $160,000 just to open the

doors,

while they still operate the River City Cafe on Emory Avenue nearby.

They say they paid a reasonable price for the building, though,

because

it was in bankruptcy. And what’s more, Rotunda hardly ever stops

promoting

the place to eat, she says.

"I never eat dinner. People will ask me what stuff tastes like,

and I really don’t know."

By comparison, her customers seem to eat plenty of steak dinners even

during lunch. Timothy’s personal tastes are another story. "I

like pizza, but we don’t serve that here," he complains.

Unlike the dummy, Rotunda’s business sense is hardly

a laughing matter. Her track record of moving swiftly in — and

out — of ventures demonstrates a keen awareness for what works

and does not.

Born in Jersey City, Marie McLaughlin grew up in Deal and went to

Asbury Park High. Her father was in outdoor advertising, and she has

two brothers and a sister. One of the brothers has a public relations

business, McLaughlin Enterprises, and represents the Michael Jackson

family; he just produced their television special.

When she entered Trenton State College in 1969 she lost the housing

lottery and had to live off campus in Morrisville. "I just never

left," she says. She entered and won the Miss Pennsylvania contest

in 1976 and for the next eight years performed professionally as a

ventriloquist. In 1984 she married attorney Pete Cascone, a widower.

He and his investment partners built the Manors Corner shopping center

in Lawrenceville and, wanting to go into the restaurant business,

he also opened Manors Corner Deli. This enterprise had problems, and

so she stepped in to manage the deli. When her husband died suddenly

in 1995, she sold the deli and moved on, later to marry again.

"Ronnie and I had known each other to say hello, and we had both

sworn never marry again. My girl friend kept pushing me," she

says. "After the first date he said what are you doing Monday,

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and three weeks

later we were engaged."

The groom was born in Chambersburg, went to Trenton High, and after

high school went to work for his father, who built housing

developments,

mostly in Hamilton. When his parents retired he began running the

apartment complex and managing their property. Their extravagant

wedding

for 650 people on September 27, 1997, culminated in one of the most

spectacular fireworks displays on the Eastern seaboard in the last

decade. "It was a hell of a party," says Ronnie Rotunda.

"It

was fun and I would do it all over again."

Marie Rotunda takes credit for last year turning around business at

the River City Cafe, which her husband opened in 1996. By 1997, he

had plans to sell it until his new wife asked for a shot. The new

Mrs. Rotunda quit leasing out the kitchen to a third party prep, did

a bit more marketing, and voila! Mr. Rotunda was glad to have

management

of it off his hands. "My business is real estate," he says.

Marie Rotunda’s business is, well, business. After all, in slightly

more than a year, she has sold one business and her house of 13 years,

only to jump right into reviving one restaurant and launching another.

She’s equally good at making money for charity. In 1993, she organized

the first Sunshine Ball and raised more than $100,000 for the Sunshine

Foundation. Overall she estimates she has raised more than $1 million

for charity.

Is it possible this new Timothy’s could potentially become a chain?

"Well, my husband and his lawyer think so." It’s likely

Rotunda

also has some idea. But maybe everyone will have to wait until Timothy

makes up his mind.

Timothy’s: a Great Steak Place, 700 Roebling Avenue, at

the corner of Division Street, Trenton. 609-695-2800. Open for a

lunch,

Tuesday to Friday, and for dinner until 10 p.m. daily except Monday,

to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Reservations and credit cards

accepted.

Appetizers range from $5 for roasted peppers up to $9 for jumbo shrimp

wrapped in bacon with bourbon sauce, "my favorite," says Paul

Evans, general manager. Dinners start at $11 for chicken breast in

mustard cream sauce, and the crab-stuffed flounder is $15. The New

York strip steaks range from $13 to $19 with an 18-ounce Porterhouse

generally market-priced at about $20. Desserts at $3.95 range from

cakes and pies to sorbets in fresh fruit.

Kids can order hamburgers and chicken fingers from the regular menu

and occupy themselves with colored pencils on the white butcher block

paper. French wines are augmented by those from California, Argentina,

and Australia.


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