Villa Tronco is arguably the oldest restaurant in Columbia — and just so happens to be one of City Editor Sam’s favorite restaurants — so we decided to do a little deep dive on the history of this Italian restaurant that has left pizzas of itself in the hearts of locals for decades.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Before Villa Tronco was a restaurant, it was a The Palmetto Fire Engine Company from 1863-1903 + later became Columbia Fire Department, Engine No. 2 from 1903-1921 located at 1213 Blanding St. We’ll come back to this in a minute.
In 1910 the Carnaggio family moved to Columbia carrying with them a daughter — Sadie Carnaggio, and her father, Charles Carnaggio, owned one of the first fruit stores in Columbia located on Gervais Street.
A man by the name of James Tronco — a medic during WWI, originally from Philadelphia — happened to walk into that same fruit store + met Sadie. They married in 1918. By 1930 they opened Iodine Fruit Store — because SC was well known for its iodine — located at 1901 Main St., and just a few years later, opened another fruit store located at 1712 Main St.
Sadie Tronco was coined as “Mama Tronco '' when she began feeding Northern soldiers in WWII who were stationed at Fort Jackson + missing tastes of home. She introduced pizza to Columbia and gave it away for free. Can you imagine tasting pizza again for the first time?
Just for fun — compare the Italian restaurant’s menu from 1990 to today. On both menus you’ll see Carmella’s Famous Cheesecake. Carmella was Sadie’s daughter who married Henry Martin — some locals may recognize this name as he was the first player to score 1,000 points for the Gamecocks during his basketball career.
After retiring, Carmella and Martin passed the business along to their daughter, Carmella and husband Joe Roche in 1972.
From generation to generation, the restaurant has been a family affair + found much success in Columbia. In 2020, the restaurant celebrated its 80th anniversary, and in the back dining room you’ll find original stable doors from the old firehouse.
History at Villa Tronco is still being made today, and its legacy lives on through the family, memories, photos, and recipes. The restaurant will be hosting Valentine’s Day specials and hopes to continue Broadway and Opera music nights in the future.