Restaurant Giant and Community Leader Passes Away

Published by Chris Wangler - July 2, 2020.

Retired Waltham restaurant owner Lou Nocera passed away on Wednesday in Florida. He was 91.

“His love of life, family, friends and charity was truly amazing,” said fashion icon Yolanda Cellucci, who knew him for more than 50 years. “He will be missed.”

Under Lou’s leadership, The Chateau became one of the most successful family restaurant chains in the state, with its toasted ravs known far and wide.

The Chateau restaurant in 1958. Courtesy photo

 

 

 

 

He was also a community trailblazer, who helped create and nurture institutions that preserved Waltham history.

The Chateau Cafe was initially a small neighborhood bar on School Street in the early 1930s. Lou’s parents Joe and Mary Nocera took it over and ran it.

“I used to squeeze the tomatoes by hand to make the sauce,” Lou said in 2005. “You couldn’t buy sauce in cans.”

He described the family business as an Italian-American restaurant, not an Italian restaurant. “Even though my parents came from Sicily, we didn’t cook heavy Italian food with a lot of garlic,” he said.

The menu and affordable prices proved hugely popular with families in Waltham and beyond.

In 1976, an expanded Chateau opened in Waltham with 800 seats. “I knocked down 25 houses for the parking,” Lou said. “Everyone thought I was crazy.”

The Waltham location celebrated its 80th anniversary in 2013.

Lou retired in the 1990s, leaving his family to run the business. Today, his son Joe serves as president of the Nocera dining empire.

Lou with his wife Betty and their seven children. Undated photo

On a WCAC show, Lou looked back fondly on his tight-knit Exchange Street upbringing. “You didn’t go that far,” he said. “Who had a car?”

He was born in 1929 in Waltham. A talented athlete in high school, he attended Boston College, then served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1954.

He married and raised seven children with his beloved wife Betty, who passed away in 2009.

Larger than life, Lou had a direct manner and a mischievous sense of humor. Upon greeting someone he was known to ask, “Do you know who I am?”

He arrived at a charity gala for his 90th birthday in a top hat and white tuxedo jacket, then wowed everyone with his virtuoso piano skills.

His extensive patronage of local sports teams and non-profits evolved into a passion for historical preservation. He helped establish and maintain the Waltham Museum and the Charles River Museum of Industry.

In the 1980s, he and other community partners raised $150,000 to research and publish Waltham Rediscovered, a hardcover book that celebrated the ethnic history of Waltham through family memories.

Lou also helped to establish the Waltham Channel and served for many years on its board.

“He believes in people, he believes in his religion and most of all he believes in giving back to the community,” said Mayor Jeannette McCarthy in 2018.

Louis J. Nocera leaves behind his wife Anne Marie, six children, grandchildren, friends, loved ones and extended family members.

Stay tuned for funeral details.