Meadville-area businessman Alan Travaglini, 60, who died unexpectedly at his home Thursday morning, was a private man.
However, as word of his death spread among friends and associates Thursday afternoon, a common thread emerged: “He was a wonderful friend and a wonderful human being — and he will be sorely missed” and words to that effect were uttered again and again.
As president of Travaglini Enterprises, Travaglini oversaw a corporate empire that included The Professional Building and Golfview Manor and Imperial Gardens apartment complexes in Meadville; Chovy’s! Italian Casual Ristorante, Holiday Inn Express and Econolodge in Vernon Township; other hotels in the area, including Comfort Inn & Suites near Edinboro and the Quality Inn & Suites and Super 8 motels in suburban Erie near Presque Isle Downs & Casino; and even more hotels in Ohio and New York.
However, Travaglini was never one to toot his own horn.
“He was really an amazing man,” Dodie Gagen, a long-time friend and retired Meadville Tribune advertising representative, recalled. Her relationship with Travaglini dated back almost 25 years, to the days when he and his wife, Carla, opened a Christmas store in Meadville’s Downtown Mall called Carla’s.
“He was very business savvy — he always knew what to do for the good of his business,” Gagen continued. “He was always up for a challenge.”
He was also funny. “He had a dry sense of humor, but he was hilarious,” she recalled. “A lot of people didn’t know the warm side of him, but he was very compassionate. He’s going to be missed by a lot of people.”
Through much of his life, he lived in the shadow of his father.
In 1965, with Meadville native Sandy Petruso, his partner for more than 30 years, Ray Travaglini co-founded Sanray Corp. in Meadville. Eventually, Ray expanded his franchise ownership to 32 Perkins restaurants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York; at its peak, the corporation employed more than 3,000 people. In 2001, Ray formed Travaglini Enterprises, where he served as chief executive officer until his death in December 2008 at the age of 80.
In 2007, Travaglini Enterprises announced a change in its focus to hotel operations, selling its 27 Perkins Restaurant and Bakery locations and purchasing two Erie-area hotels. “It was time for a change,” Ray Travaglini said in a written statement released at the time. The restaurants were purchased by Unique Ventures Group LLC, a Pittsburgh-based company headed by Marc Teaberry, former executive vice president of Travaglini Enterprises.
“I can’t even believe it,” Teaberry said Thursday afternoon, still reeling from the news of the death of his beloved cousin. “He was at work yesterday — this was as sudden as you can get.”
Speaking from his office in The Professional Building, Teaberry used the present tense in referring to the man he had worked across the hall from for more than 35 years. “We kind of all lived in the shadow of Ray,” he recalled. “We’ve been together since the day the company was started in 1970 — we’re like brothers.”
Although the corporate focus may have shifted to hotels, “Chovy’s was (Alan’s) baby,” Teaberry continued fondly. “It was his personal mission. Out of everything they owned, he threw his life and soul into that.”
Asked how he would describe his cousin, “Alan was just a genuinely kind, compassionate human being,” Teaberry said. “There’s nothing assuming about him. He’s a family man who really loved his family. That was key.”
He also loved his friends.
“I’ve known him for probably 30 years,” Meadville businessman Dan Crandall said. “He was a very dear friend — extremely, extremely generous.”
A very shy man, he was also misunderstood because of his family name, Crandall continued. “Because he was a larger-than-life kind of guy with a larger-than-life kind of name, people may have been intimidated,” he said. “I don’t think you would find a kinder guy than Alan.”
Former associate and long-time friend Toni Frisina agreed. “It’s definitely a loss for our community,” she said. “I have never met a more wonderful man. A more generous and caring man. It’s such a loss for the community.”
Ashley Porter, who was working with Travaglini on his latest project — expanding Chovy’s — agreed.
“His personality was very unassuming,” Porter said. “He was very gentlemanly, but his intent for development in Meadville was an extension of his father’s intent. He carried on the torch for the community. It’s a great loss.”
Philanthropist Jim Duratz was greatly saddened by the news. Noting that golf legend Arnold Palmer is in town for Allegheny College’s weekend graduation ceremony, “He was staying at Alan’s hotel and he was arranging for a little get-together for a small group,” Duratz explained. “He (Alan) was so happy about it — like a small child. He was looking forward to that so much — that’s what’s kind of hurting right now.”
Recalling Travaglini’s joy over the simple possibility of shaking Palmer’s hand, “that’s very sad to me,” Duratz said. “It’s hard to even talk about it. I’m stunned right now — he was a really, really good friend.”
Arrangements are incomplete and under the direction of Hatheway-Tedesco Funeral Home, Inc., 614 Baldwin St., Meadville.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.