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TAT: Talk of the Town, Ninety Years and Counting

Posted by cmh gourmand on March 3, 2020

The story of TAT Ristorante begins in 1929 in the former Flytown neighborhood of Columbus. The address was 409 West Goodale Street. The name itself is directly related to a historic moment in Columbus history. Pete and Philomena Carrova were looking for a name for their new restaurant. Prior to opening the doors to the public, a historic event occurred at the city’s airport, the Columbus Municipal Hangar (CMH) on the east site. On July 9th of 1929, the first transcontinental flights in the United States were launched. Passengers started their journey in New York via train, the first stop was Columbus where train passengers were transferred to a waiting Ford Tri-Motor aircraft to fly them to their next destination. In the course of 48 hours, a person could travel from New York to Los Angeles. It was an amazing feat for the era and the talk of the town that Columbus was a part of it. The name of this new airline was Transcontinental Air Transport or T-A-T. Legend says that Pete Corrova would watch planes from Transcontinental Air Transport flying into and out from the airport and decided to use the initials he saw on the planes as the name of the restaurant. Another legend suggests the once officials from T-A-T came by to ask about the use of the name and Pete replied it stood for “take any table”. The airline did not last long and faded from memory quickly and we do know that Pete’s son Jimmy Corrova started to tell customers that TAT did indeed stand for take any table. Today. The current home for TAT features a wonderful mural by local artist Carl Weisenberger which depicts the history of TAT..the airline in a series of images.

“Progress” in the form of new highways, cut up the Flytown neighborhood in the early 1950’s and forced TAT to move. Pete and Philomena opened the new location on the growing east side at 3280 E. Main St at South Hampton Road (it remained there until 1965). The couple continued to serve food that reflected Pete’s Sicilian (Ficara) roots and the recipes Philomena brought from Naples…and of course pizza. In 1955 (or 1954), Jimmy Corrova and his wife, Dolores, opened a second TAT at East Broad Street and James Road. In 1962 the family added a location at Livingston Avenue and Beechwood Road. This was followed by a pizza focused location on the west side, the TAT Pizza Carry Out at 3858 Sullivant Ave (which became Minelli’s Restaurant & Pizza Carry Out in 1967). During the brief tenure as a TAT, the west side location was very busy with Jimmy Corrova recalling they used “five to six delivery wagons and sold 600 pizzas per night on Friday and Saturday”. After the death of patriarch Pete, followed by Jimmy having a heart attack, the family decided to merge the two remaining east side TAT’s in 1980 which remains TAT’s location today, 1210 South James Road (at Livingston Avenue).

As the oldest continuously owned family restaurant in Columbus with over ninety years of service, a plethora of memories and stories have accumulated. Maintaining a tradition followed by most of the original pizzerias and many Italian restaurants in town, recipes are not written down. Kitchen staff (or family members) are shown how to make something and then they follow suit. Before Jimmy had heart surgery in the 1980’s, he made sure that video tapes were made showing him creating all of the essential recipes for the kitchen.

Corrova started working at TAT when he was seven, when he was nine he stood on a crate to run the cash register. Today his wife, Dolores is the general manager and his brother Anthony is the maitre d’. Defying generations of Sicilian tradition of leaving everything to the first born son, his daughters Michelle (back of the house / kitchen) and Marianne (front of the house) are ready to take over the family business when Jimmy decides to give up the reins.

A favorite story of Jimmy Corrova involves his David vs. Goliath fight with several big businesses in his cease and desist lawsuit involving the use of the the term, Poor Boy sandwiches in Ohio. At the time, several companies including Kroger were selling frozen Poor Boy sandwiches locally. A barely adult Jimmy decided to bring a lawsuit against these companies including the local grocery store chain. Shortly after word got out about what he was planning to do, he was asked to meet with “a few people” at Romeo’s Pizzeria. When he arrived, the place was full of various Italian community leaders as well as powerful Democratic and Republican lawmakers. He was very strongly “encouraged” to stop his legal fight so as to not stir up the pot. He was told the suit would destroy the family business and be bad for the Italian-American community. Afterward, he went to church where he “received a message from Heaven” that he would win the case. When he asked his lawyer how much he should sue for he was told $100,000. He recalls thinking that was a lot of 0’s (zeros). He did win the case after six years and TAT still owns the Poor Boy Trademark to this day. Jimmy believes the headline in the Citizen Journal (local newspaper of the era) was “Judge Slices Up Sandwich Attorneys” on the day he won the suit.

TAT is known for having many employees who have worked front and back of house for decades as well a countless regular customers that span the generations. Many customers have a favorite booth and/or server. One booth even has a plaque dedicated to a long time customer who passed away, now the booth is reserved for her forever. TAT puts the old, into Old School in every aspect one can imagine. This family business has survived the Great Depression, countless recessions, treads, fads and an endless stream of new competition by not changing a thing. The only thing that has changed at TAT is their style of pizza served which has evolved from their original thicker crust interpretation with American cheese to the classic Columbus style today with just a few tweaks since the 1950’s.

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