Southern’s Unsung Hero: Teresa Massaro


Melissa Nuñez – General Assignment Reporter

Teresa Massaro, store manager at Southern’s Bagel Wagon, said she moved from Italy to the United States when she was 23-years-old, along with her husband and three babies. Massaro said after owning a successful seamstress business in Italy, she and her husband had plans of opening another one in the U.S.; but after only a short time together, she lost him and her plans quickly changed.

“I was only married nine years when I lost my husband,” said Massaro, “he had a massive heart attack. So I was alone with three small kids. Small. My oldest had just turned eight.”

Massaro said with three small children to raise on her own, she knew finding work was her top priority.

“I had to go to work. I had to find something,” said Massaro. “My first job was part-time at Steinbeck’s, then I worked at Saint Raphael’s as a financial counselor.”

Massaro said she quickly learned that working at a hospital would come with sacrifices that she could not make.

“At hospitals if it was a holiday and it was your turn to work, then you have to go to work and I could not do that,” said Massaro. “I could not leave my kids home alone when my turn was Christmas day. I had to be there. I was not going to leave my kids.”

Massaro said it was about 21 years ago when she had an interview at Southern and landed the job that very day at a different store.

Massaro said when the Bagel Wagon was created, it was just that. A small wagon that served coffee and bagels. When Southern made renovations to Engleman, Massaro said they did away with the wagon and customers were not pleased.

“When they re-did the building they had to take [the Bagel Wagon] away, for like two years. Everybody wanted it back so they did this one,” said Massaro. “But never in their dreams did they think that this would do so well.”

Massaro said the Bagel Wagon only sold a few items, but she saw potential in the small store.

“The concept was just coffee, a bagel, a muffin. We had two coolers and some chips but that is all we had,” said Massaro. “Then little by little, I brought in stuff, I started, ‘let’s try this, let’s try that,’ because the kids were asking for it. So every week I would order something and that is how it got to this.”

Massaro said over the past two decades her connection to the students has been profound, saying she even dubbed ‘Mother Teresa’ for a short time.

“You get to know the kids and when they leave, maybe it has something to do with [being] a mother, I am happy for them and at the same time you miss them,” said Massaro. “It is surprising; I still see them. Sometimes I am in the store and I hear somebody call me, one of the students, one of the professors, or one of the staff. It is amazing.”

Massaro said she is a proud woman, that even on her hardest days she can sleep easy knowing she has worked hard to make a student’s day just a little easier.

“When it is all said and done I go home at night and I feel good about myself because I know I put a hard day’s work in. I treat this as if it were my own, I really do,” said Massaro. “I have kids, early in the morning saying, ‘It is so early, I am so tired, how can you be up and smiling?’ That is how you have to take day by day, if I am tired that is my problem, it is not my client’s problem. You have to try and make it better for them.”

Photo Credit: Melissa Nuñez – General Assignment Reporter

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