By Pete Kennedy
Early in his career, Pete Giorgi Sr. worked as an engineering technical illustrator at DuPont, in the atomic energy department that was responsible for designing the Savannah River nuclear plant. He then went to American Engineering, designing rockets and re-entry vehicles at a time when the United States was working to catch up to the Soviet Union in the space race.
But it’s a different aspect of his career that still causes his surname to show up in the newspaper. For more than five decades, he designed and installed kitchens with his older brother. It’s not uncommon to see “Giorgi kitchen” mentioned as an amenity in real estate listings.
A lifelong Delawarean, Giorgi, 78, was the fifth child of six, and the first born after his parents came to America from
the Marche region of Italy. He grew up on Scott Street in Wilmington’s Little Italy neighborhood, and he remembers the neighborhood’s first television.
“There was one fellow, Steve, who could afford one,” Giorgi said. “If he had the shade open, you could stand outside looking in and watching this brown TV. If the shade was down, he wanted privacy.” Giorgi and his siblings grew up surrounded by Italian culture. Many of the older residents, including his mother, never learned English.
“I thought once you turned 45, you only spoke Italian,” he said.
Giorgi and his wife, Ellen Cheever, have traveled to Italy several times, including for the EuroCucina International Kitchen Furniture Exhibition held in Milan every other year. He has long been an advocate for keeping alive the Italian culture in which he was raised, and he works with Italian groups to serve the broader community.
Giorgi is a past state deputy of the Delaware Knights of Columbus, with which he actively supported Bayard House, a facility serving at-risk, homeless, pregnant women and their babies.
He is treasurer of the Delaware Italian American Education Association and a member of both Sons of Italy lodges in Wilmington, Giuseppe Verdi and Prince of Piedmont. He has served as president of Societa da Vinci, and he is currently president of the Parish Council at St. Anthony’s of Padua.
Giorgi was once named Man of the Year by the Columbus Day Committee, a group with which he has been active for 45 years.
“The more you gave to the community, the more it gave you back,” he said.
He believes that community service was one of the important factors that led to the success of Giorgi Kitchens and Designs, the business that his brother Joe founded in 1960 and he joined soon thereafter. Their pro bono work for nonprofits like the Ministry of Caring helped to raise their profile in the community. Joe was the carpenter, and Pete brought design expertise to the company, having studied at Brown Vocational Technical High School and the University of Delaware before entering the workforce. He says the bulk of his education came from the school of hard knocks, though.
In those early days of the business, the brothers would do kitchen installations and other contracting jobs during the day, then sell in the evenings. They’d empty and refill their panel truck multiple times daily, changing out tools and building materials for sample cabinets and sales paperwork, then back again.
Cheever, a design consultant herself, said the enduring philosophy of Giorgi Kitchens was that the job always had to be done right.
“Whether you made money or not,” Giorgi added.
When Joe retired about 22 years ago, Giorgi took over as president, running the company for about a decade before retiring himself, though he still does some design work. Two of Joe’s sons and two of Pete’s five children continue to operate the business.
Since his semi-retirement, Giorgi and Cheever have been doing lots of traveling, trying to see all 50 states. National parks and presidential libraries are plot points they use to map out their journeys. They’ve been to 38 states so far, and a trip to the Carter Presidential Library in Georgia is in the works.
Their wanderlust prompted them to sell their house and move into a condo.
“We are off to Florida for a month, then on to Ireland, the Panama Canal, and of course, back to Italy,” Cheever said. “There’s just so much to see in this world, and we want to enjoy it together.”