Paul De Domenico, who, with his family helped create and market Rice-A-Roni, died March 14 of cancer, his wife said. He was 78.
Though he made his fortune largely off “The San Francisco Treat,” New Mexico is where he chose to spend his golden years. He and his wife, Anita, moved to Santa Fe in 1989, where they have remained since.
De Domenico’s family owned the “Golden Grain Macaroni Company,” a successful pasta factory in San Francisco. The story goes that the De Domenicos invented their signature product in 1958 after watching an Armenian housekeeper create rice pilaf using a mixture of rice and macaroni.
De Domenico, who had just returned from college at the University of Washington and the Army, was instrumental in expanding the product, his wife said. While at school, he noticed that women were entering the workforce and had less time to prepare dinner for their families, she said.
“He said this would be ideal for convenience food,” Anita De Domenico said. “That’s what sparked the idea of Rice-A-Roni.”
The family corporation grew to include Ghiradelli Chocolate Co., Golden Grain Pasta Co. and Vernell’s Candy Co., with factories in San Francisco, Seattle and Chicago.
Ultimately, the family sold the company to Quaker Oats.
De Domenico met his future wife, Anita, while on a business trip to her father’s Italian food deli in Vancouver. At the time, Anita was only 15 years old and pursuing a career as a ballerina. The two kept in touch and met up five years later when she was in Los Angeles to audition for a movie. The part required her to kiss a man in her on-screen test, and she was unsure whether to do it.
“Maybe you should consider settling down,” he told her. “How about me, for instance?”
When she said she wasn’t sure, he told her he’d give her 30 days to answer.
“Over the 30 days, I realized he was a very important part of my life,” she said.
She decided to marry De Domenico and never performed the screen test. But, she added jokingly, “every time I argued with my husband, I say ‘you know what, I could have been a famous movie star.’ ”
On the way home from a trip to Fiji, where they purchased a 100-acre plantation, the De Domenicos stopped in Hawaii to look for a macadamia nut supplier for the Ghiradelli company. They wound up purchasing a plantation, establishing the Hawaiian Holiday Macadamia Nut Co. and stayed in Hawaii for 23 years.
While there, he had a license plate that said “Mr. Nut” and she had one that said “Mrs. Nut.”
When their son decided to move to Santa Fe after college, they decided to follow him there.
“We’ve just loved it ever since,” Anita De Domenico said. “My son’s still here. It is the perfect place.”
Paul De Domenico is survived by his wife, Anita; his son Paul and wife Laurie of Santa Fe; his daughter Gina and husband Markus Flanagan of Los Angeles; and six grandchildren.
— This article appeared on page C3 of the Albuquerque Journal