Six days a week for 46 years, Eddie Marrocco went to work every morning, usually arriving at the office by 8:30. He often didn't get home until midnight, 1 or 2 a.m., then was up the next day to do it all again.
"My dad was tireless," recalled his son Mark. "It didn't matter how late he worked the night before. He'd still work 12 hours a day."
This long life of labor, which stretched from the Truman presidency to Bill Clinton's, was based on a simple precept: Make the customer happy.
When he left the Army in 1952, Marrocco joined the family business, which his brother and father had started two years before. Together, they built Marrocco's Restaurant into a Washington institution as a cozy, low-key home of good cheer and Italian food at 1913 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. After it closed, Marrocco opened a second restaurant with his sons, and he ran it until he retired in 1998.
If ever someone was suited for the restaurant trade, it was Edward J. Marrocco, who died Aug. 15 of lymphoma at age 73. Charming, jovial and standing 6 feet 3 in his crisply tailored suits, he loved to greet his guests and share a laugh. He even met the woman who would become his wife of 49 years, Adele, when she came by for lunch.
"He was very outgoing, very gregarious in his home and in his restaurant," said his daughter Mia Eisenbart. "He had a huge laugh, a huge smile and huge hands."
"He was a natural host," said his older brother and business partner, Anthony "Mike" Marrocco. "He had a passion for the business."
The Marrocco brothers grew up in Cumberland, Md., where their father, an Italian immigrant, ran a dry-cleaning business. In 1950, Mike Marrocco left the University of Maryland and opened a bar in Washington -- "just a little joint" -- with his father.
"We had no background," said Mike Marrocco. "I didn't know anything about it."
Two years later, Eddie joined the business, which was quickly growing into a full-scale restaurant, with recipes the brothers borrowed from their mother. They leased the space next door, opened a dining room -- the Sorrento Room -- and kept the prices low.
Marrocco's had a sidewalk cafe when they were still rare in Washington, as well as one of the city's first cappuccino machines, a giant copper contraption imported from Italy. The restaurant's cooks made sausages and fresh pasta and cooked up spaghetti sauce in a 40-gallon Army-surplus pot.
"He loved to get back there behind the range," Mike Marrocco said of his brother. "He really had a knack for it."
Stagehands from the Kennedy Center were regular customers, as well as George Washington University students and professors and White House chauffeurs, who "would tell us all that was going on down there."
Bob Hope came to dinner, and so did dancer Jose Greco and actor Donald O'Connor. When Henry Fonda was appearing at the Kennedy Center, he brought a group of friends to the restaurant every night for a week. Then there was the congressman who had a party of 10 and paid with a check -- which bounced.
At times, three generations of Marroccos worked in the restaurant, including sisters, children, aunts and in-laws. The brothers divided the managerial duties between them, switching from day to night shifts on alternating weeks.
"We got along great," said Mike Marrocco. "It was like we were joined at the hip."
When Eddie Marrocco worked the early shift, he'd go home to McLean to work -- where else? -- in the kitchen.
"We'd come home from school," recalled Mia Eisenbart, "and there was my dad, making pasta sauce. His sauce was just phenomenal."
Every other Friday, he'd pack his car with pizzas from the restaurant and take them back for his four children, their friends and any neighbors who wandered by. Marrocco and his wife often threw sumptuous dinner parties for up to 60 people.
"When he retired," Adele Marrocco said, "he took over, and I didn't see the kitchen after that."
In 1984, the original Marrocco's closed after 34 years. People made special trips from out of town to bid farewell.
"It was just unbelievable," said Mike Marrocco. "I told my brother we should have done this years ago. We should have gone out of business every six months."
Eddie Marrocco went right back to work, opening a new Marrocco's at 1120 20th St. NW. The restaurant drew good reviews and a big-name clientele (Sugar Ray Leonard, Lesley Stahl, Joe Gibbs, Cokie Roberts and a regular luncheon crowd of NPR reporters) and gave Marrocco a chance to work with his sons, Eddie P. and Mark.
"We didn't get rich," said Mark Marrocco, now executive chef at Magnolia's at the Mill in Purcellville. "We just provided good food and service and had a good life there."
Then he added, "The longer I've been in this business, I realize everything my dad said and taught me was right."