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Matilda Lisanti; was matriarch of Italian food firm

LINCOLN PARK, N.J. -- Matilda Lisanti, one half of a mom-and-pop business that grew into a multimillion-dollar Italian food empire, died Monday. She was 98.

Mrs. Lisanti, who lived in Montville Township at the time of her death, and her husband, Joseph Lisanti Sr., opened a dairy store in Passaic in 1929 that eventually became Lisanti Foods, a nationwide supplier to pizzerias and restaurants.

The company grew in the 1970s and in 1976 had $14 million in sales, according to The Record of Bergen County. Joseph Lisanti Sr. died in 1965, and sons Anthony and Joseph Jr. took over the operation of the business.

Their mother stayed involved in the business into her 80s and was considered "the eyes and ears of the place," according to son Anthony.

One of Lisanti Foods' biggest customers was the Brooklyn-based Sbarro chain of Italian restaurants, and founder Joseph Sbarro recalled Matilda Lisanti's dedication to her job.

"The Lisanti sons and I were out for dinner, and we went back to their main warehouse there in Jersey, and Mamma Lisanti was there, at 11 at night, going through a pile of invoices the old-fashioned way, by hand," he told The Record. "I couldn't believe it."

The Lisantis survived a public feud in the mid-1980s that ended with a judge ordering Anthony Lisanti to sell his share of the company back to the corporation. The siblings -- Anthony, Joseph Jr., and Rosemarie -- reconciled five years ago, Anthony Lisanti said.

The company is now called Lisanti Food Service of Texas.