Ray Parella's opened its doors in 1961 in Jeffersonville, Ind. An institution, it served loyal patrons across the river for 38 years. Ray had planned to retire but a couple years later he got the itch and reopened, this time as a quaint deli focusing on carry out and catering in the Douglass Loop. With urging from customers, and with thoughts of passing on the family business to his children, Ray's moved to Frankfort Avenue. It was a full-service restaurant again, serving beer and wine, and of course good Italian food in a family friendly atmosphere. The old toll house Ray's now occupied (previous tenant was Sweet Surrender) was still quite small in comparison to its 200-plus seat, custom built facility in Jeffersonville.
I was fortunate enough to become part of the Ray's family while a server there for a couple years when I was in college. You didn't have to be an employee to be part of the family, however. We were on a first name basis with many regulars. Unfortunately, the current economy proved to be too much for Ray's to survive.
I worked closely with Rose Parella, Ray's daughter, and still maintain a relationship with her. Shutting the doors of the restaurant has been difficult for Rose. "I grew up there", she said. "Dad would take us to work with him (all five children), when we were kids." Ray's had been a part of her life since she was 8 years old.
Although we are fortunate as Louisvillians to have a vast assortment of excellent locally owned eateries, places like Ray's are a dying breed. It is hard for family-owned restaurants (especially Italian ones) to compete against the chains. Sometimes having a good product, and even a loyal customer base just isn't enough. They had a heck of a run though. When you think about all of the places that have come and gone during their five decades in business, it is pretty remarkable. Ray's may be gone, but it will never be forgotten.
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Photo: Ray Parella's