Food, like family and faith, was always dearest to the heart of Albert “Al” Collette.
In June 1973, Collette’s Catering was inadvertently launched when Collette and his wife JoAnna catered a niece’s wedding.
The response was so efficacious that five years later, Collette left his job at Alpha Beta to open the Northern Avenue staple that continues to proclaim his name and legacy.
On Aug. 25, Collette, the patriarch of a family business that he operated until the age of 75, died at the age of 83.
The importance of food, for both sustenance and enjoyment, was a life lesson Collette passed on to his family, noted Patrick Collette, who along with his sister, JoAnna Yarberry, runs the business.
“Growing up, we didn’t have much money and Dad worked three jobs,” said Patrick Collette. “Dad turned the entire backyard into a garden. He grew vegetables, raised chickens, goats and rabbits. We were taught where our food came from, and it wasn’t just at the grocery store.
“He also taught us how to make homemade wine. We took turns stomping the grapes. He made some of the best-tasting wine: a sweet wine for Mom and a dry wine for himself.”
Once word of the tasty nature of the food Collette and his wife provided for his niece’s wedding got out, catering requests came flooding in.
“It had always been a dream of Dad’s to open a restaurant,” said JoAnna Yarberry. “And soon, the opportunity arose to start his business.”
From the outset, Collette’s Catering was a big hit: booming to the point that Collette was able to quit his jobs and focus solely on the catering and carry-out service.
With his name and reputation on the line, Collette ensured everything was first-rate.
“Dad was the business manager, financial wizard and quality-control person, while Mom was the chef,” Patrick Collette said. “He always said, ’Anything worth doing should be done right.’”
Perfectionist that he was, Collette also had a playful side.
“He liked to play the occasional prank on us, or spray someone with water or flour,” Yarberry said. “But he also taught us to be generous and give back. He constantly donated to various charities, the soup kitchen or a homeless person on the street.
“We were always told not to turn a hungry person away, even if they could not pay for their meal.”
Although his wife was the architect in the kitchen, Collette was no slouch when it came to crafting food.
“For many years, Dad baked potica for the holiday season,” Patrick Collette said. “His potica was in such high demand that he made as many as 50 loaves of potica in one day.
“He would tell us that was how he paid for Christmas.”
One of Collette’s favorite traditions was the St. Joseph’s Day Table, a homemade shrine with an array of food.
“He could tell you the meaning of each food item on the table and how it was to be presented,” Patrick Collette said.
A Navy veteran, Collette was a devoted family man who doted on his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, just as he did his own.
Faith also was a central part of Collette’s life.
He was very active with Our Lady of the Meadows Catholic Church, serving on the church council and founding its Knights of Columbus chapter.
A true family venture, Collette’s has, at one time or another, employed every immediate member of the family and provided a first job for many of its extended members.
Although Collette was a demanding boss, “Many employees that worked for him over the years came back and thanked him for teaching them the meaning of a good work ethic,” Yarberry said.
In addition to Patrick Collette and Yarberry, Brittany Yarberry and Sarah Hoopes, Collette’s granddaughters, remain involved in the business, 1614 W. Northern Ave.
Services are being handled by T.G. McCarthy Funeral Home.
Chieftain reporter can be reached by email at [email protected] or at twitter.com/jpompia. Help support local journalism by subscribing to the Chieftain at chieftain.com/subscribenow.