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Family restaurant in name and philosophy

Samuel Speciale
Ralph Hagy, at left, and his two sons Jordan, center, and Joe man La Famiglia's kitchen.
Samuel Speciale At $13, La Famiglia's margherita pizza is its bestselling menu item. It is made with San Marzano tomato sauce, house-made mozzarella and fresh basil and cooked in an authentic, Neapolitan wood-fired brick oven.

Ralph Hagy is all about two things: family and authentic Italian food.

It comes as no surprise, then, that he named his Huntington-based restaurant La Famiglia, which is Italian for "the family."

Ever since opening La Famiglia in 2011, Hagy has centered his business on making diners feel like they are eating a home-cooked meal, something he says is important to the concept of a "trattoria." That's the Italian word for a casual restaurant based on the lower floor of a family's home.

To stay authentic, Hagy and his family built their restaurant in an old house. When La Famiglia first opened, Hagy's two sons, Joe and Jordan, lived upstairs, but the second floor was quickly turned into additional dining space to accommodate more guests.

While his family no longer lives above the restaurant, Hagy said the food and atmosphere are no less authentic, because he still uses a genuine wood-fired brick oven to cook pizza.

La Famiglia has traditional entrees like lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs, but pizza is far and away the best-selling menu item.

Hagy said his top-sellers are margherita, sausage and pepperoni pizzas. The restaurant also serves a variety of homemade desserts like connolis, truffles, biscotti and gelato.

All the dishes use Neapolitan ingredients, from the double-aught flour used for pizza and bread dough to the San Marzano tomatoes grown in volcanic soil around Mount Vesuvius. Hagy pays a premium for ordering ingredients directly from Italy, but said he takes pride in knowing his food is authentic.

What Hagy doesn't order from Italy comes from local farmers and markets in and around Huntington.

"Typical Italian trattorias are all about making fresh food each day and going to the local marketplace," he said. "What it boils down to is that we only prepare what is fresh."

Unlike most restaurants, La Famiglia's freezer isn't filled with produce or meats. Hagy only uses it to store cheese curds, which he hand-forms into mozzarella balls for salads and pizza.

La Famiglia attracts clientele from all over West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

"You'll rarely find anything that tastes like what we have here," Hagy said. "It's the original taste that brings people in from across the Tri-State."

The original taste comes from secret family recipes Hagy learned from spending time in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother.

"Everything I've learned, I learned standing side by side with my parents," Hagy said. "Outside of baking, there aren't any recipes. They weren't written down for me, and I don't write them down for my sons because they are taught generation to generation."

Hagy said La Famiglia wouldn't be where it is without his family who work in the restaurant when their busy schedules permit them to.

"Joe is an attorney, Jordan is pursuing his MBA and Terry (my wife) is a first grade teacher," Hagy said. "We hit a point in our lives where we wanted to work together to bring something unique to Huntington," Hagy said.

The family now wants to take the La Famiglia brand to the next level. In April, Hagy will open La Famiglia's Mulberry Street Meatball Company and Deli.

The deli will be Huntington's only Italian wholesale restaurant and will have sandwiches, grinders, meats and cheeses similar to those found at Carnegie Deli and Katz's Delicatessen in New York

"We want to bring a real, fast service and good quality deli to downtown Huntington," he said.

La Famiglia also is working to become certified by Vera Pizza Napoletana, a legal entity recognized by the Italian government that gives special designations to pizzerias that adhere to the strict requirements of Neapolitan pizza making. The restaurant would be the first in West Virginia to receive the honor, a distinction Hagy says will further separate La Famiglia from other Italian restaurants in West Virginia.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886. Follow him at twitter.com/wvschools.


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