Frances Iovino is the mother of 15 children, so it’s understandable if she just estimates the number of her descendants.
“They’re in the 20s,” she said, when asked to count grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But she’s more specific about the fifth generation: one great-great-granddaughter – so far.
“They’re in and out of my house all the time,” she noted.
Mrs. Iovino, 95, has a little more time to refine her population statistics now that the family business for the past 45 years, Sun Valley Subs at 57 Summer St., has closed its doors.
Friday was the last day, and although there were mixed emotions, the atmosphere was mainly celebratory as family and friends reminisced and posed for photographs in and around the shop, perched near the banks of the Shawsheen River at the Lexington line.
At its peak, said Mrs. Iovino’s son Bob, the daily demand exceeded 800 sandwiches. Things have slowed significantly since the Covid-19 pandemic, he said, as the shop is short staffed, much of the workforce along Wiggins Avenue and Hartwell Avenue in Lexington is still remote, delivery services have proliferated, and the Revolution Hall food court across the Summer Street bridge opened early in 2021.
Mrs. Iovino turned over most of the food preparation to her daughter and right-hand person, Peggy Higgins, after her third fall more than a year ago. She walks using a cane, but is in good health.
For years, customers who moved away – many of whom were stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base – would drop by when they were in the area. “They all expected me to remember them,” Mrs. Iovino smiled.
Frances Iovino was born in Burlington in 1928. She and her husband Pasqualino, who died in 1990, moved to South Road in 1953, where she has resided since. Their children range in age from 51 to 74, and almost all of them are still within a couple of hours of Bedford.
The family acquired five acres on Summer Street in the 1960s, and for years Patsy Iovino had a garden center – there’s still a Sun Valley Gardens sign on an outbuilding. They sold fruits and vegetables from a stand next door; Bob said he was the one who suggested starting a sub shop there.
“There was nothing else around this area. I said, ‘We’ll all pitch in,” he remembered. It opened in 1978.
For decades, Fran Iovino would start her day at the shop as early as 5 a.m. She would bring her younger children along so they could catch the school bus there; Chico Palmeri turned his vehicle around in the parking lot. In those days, you could get a large sub for $1.85.
Mrs. Iovino learned a lot of her culinary techniques from her sister-in-law Ruth Benoit, who for years handled the sandwiches at Alexander’s Pizza in Lexington as well as her own place near the Arlington town line called The Kitchen. At Sun Valley, subs and daily specials anchored the menu. Mrs. Iovino’s meatballs were her signature specialty, prepared from scratch every day.
During the busiest years, Sun Valley operated seven days a week, sometimes open as late as 9 p.m. with a staff of eight and two registers. For years the business was cash only. Most of the Iovino children worked at Sun Valley at one time or another.
Some other random memories shared during the gathering on Friday:
- Months before the store opened, the adjacent greenhouse roof was crushed during the Blizzard of 1978.
- The family kept domestic animals, including a few heifers and turkeys, on the premises for a while.
- In 1982, President Ronald Reagan landed at Hanscom Field, and the Iovinos plastered a welcoming sign on the roof of Sun Valley Subs. Later, the presidential motorcade drove by on its way to Millipore Corp.
- A few years ago, a couple of armed robbers cleaned out the registers in the middle of the business day.
- The Iovinos celebrated Frances’s 90th birthday with a family party in the parking lot, with about 70 guests.
Now that Sun Valley is closed, Mrs. Iovino doesn’t have any specific retirement plans. She has traveled already to some faraway places with her daughters, such as Alaska and Hawaii, and continues to enjoy Bingo games where she can find them.