BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Debby Marticio was forced to close Ma Duke’s eatery in December due to health reasons, she said, after she was diagnosed with what she described as a noncancerous 31-pound tumor in her abdomen.
She said yesterday that doctors have cleared her medically to go back to work, but Ma Duke’s Pizza, Roast Beef and Seafood Restaurant will be no more. The restaurant derived its name from Marticio’s nickname: Ma Duke.
“Last year was the worst year ever,” said Marticio, 57. “I’m hoping things get better.”
For the past six years, the Danvers resident opened the restaurant’s doors to provide free Thanksgiving meals to anyone who needed it. Toward the end of October, Marticio fell behind on her electric bill to the town, which has a municipal electric division.
Donations to that debt allowed her to reopen and work out a payment plan with the town, she said at the time. More donations, including from a spaghetti supper fundraiser held by All Saints Episcopal Church, defrayed the cost of the 750 free meals she either served on Thanksgiving at the former Maple Street restaurant or had delivered to those in need.
She wound up in the hospital and had surgery on Dec. 17, she said. After that, she could not lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk, keeping her from going back to work.
Marticio said she noticed something was wrong when she began to lose weight, but her waist did not show this loss. Surgeons were able to remove the tumor, and Marticio said she was fortunate it was not cancerous.
“Needless to say,” Marticio said yesterday, “I had to close.” While her husband and daughter worked at the restaurant, her husband has a full-time job and her daughter could not manage it all by herself, Marticio said. She now has about $50,000 in medical bills, plus bills accumulated from the now-closed restaurant.
This past Thanksgiving, Ma Duke’s served about 250 fewer meals than the prior holiday, in part because there was uncertainty on the part of the town as to whether the restaurant would reopen, Marticio said. The town coordinates free meals during the Thanksgiving holiday. She said Supino’s Restaurant on Route 1 stepped up to help cook the extra meals. Marticio would like to find a restaurant that would be willing to let her serve free meals next year.
“I want to thank everyone for their support for the whole six years” of doing the Thanksgiving meals, Marticio said.
Marticio said she would like to get a job doing what she did before, working at a restaurant and serving customers. She said she worked at Jimmy’s Famous Roast Beef and Seafood on High Street for nine years before opening her own place. Used to long hours at her restaurant, she considers 40 hours a part-time job.
“I’d love to work at something,” Marticio said. “Same thing, dealing with people. I really miss all the people.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.