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
"We put an Irish steak place in an Italian restaurant
said Rotunda, not unstruck by the irony of the mahogany,
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
a certain edge. "We sent a call out over the Internet and we
getting photos two months before we opened," Rotunda says.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
while they still operate the River City Cafe on Emory Avenue nearby.
They say they paid a reasonable price for the building, though,
it was in bankruptcy. And what’s more, Rotunda hardly ever stops
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
mostly in Hamilton. When his parents retired he began running the
apartment complex and managing their property. Their extravagant
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.
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
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
Is it possible this new Timothy’s could potentially become a chain?
"Well, my husband and his lawyer think so." It’s likely
also has some idea. But maybe everyone will have to wait until Timothy
makes up his mind.
the corner of Division Street, Trenton. 609-695-2800. Open for a
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
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,
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.