He has leukemia. He has had open-heart surgery and a heart stem. He is 65-years-old.
Yet he keeps working 17 hours a day. He keeps life fun. He keeps going.
“I figured if you stop, you die. And I don’t want to die, but I enjoy what I do.”
Matt Badali has owned My Son’s Rib Shack for 10 years. He is the face of the food trailer, greeting customers and cooking in front of their small greenhouse business. His wife, Sharon Badali, helps with a myriad of tasks behind the scenes.
“It’s fun. It’s fun to make people laugh; fun to make people smile.” Matt Badali said. “I have a sense of humor, so I try to make people laugh. Sometimes, I tick somebody off, but I try not to. If you don’t have a sense of humor, don’t come here.”
Matt Badali fell in love with cooking while learning from his grandmother during the summers he spent at Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania. Then, at 16-years-old, he took a job at the now-closed Stable Pitt and Pub cooking steaks and other pieces of meat. He then became the night shift breakfast cook.
“I started my shift at midnight, and I would get all the drunks and feed them from midnight till 8 a.m. in the morning,” Matt Badali said. “I had a 12-foot grill, and I mastered that grill at 16,17-years-old.”
After attending school to become a chef, he bought a beer distributor called Colonial Beer in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania. He paid the previous owner the store’s gross sales of the previous year of $25,000, which was a common practice in the 1970s. Within 10 months, Matt Badali earned the store an income of $1.6 million.
“In the state of Pennsylvania, you have to sell at cost [of the product] or higher. You can’t sell it below. There was some finagling somewhere, but nobody could match my prices,” he said. “I was selling it for what everyone else was paying for it… I didn’t make money on the books, but I made money because they came and bought this and bought that.”
Matt Badali then sold Colonial Beer and bought a nightclub titled Listello’s Lounge. After some time, he sold that business and bought a used car dealership in Texas. After selling the dealership and moving back to Pennsylvania, an embroidery shop became his next project. The shop became the embroidery for the University of Pittsburgh through “luck,” said Badali. He then changed professions again to truck driver.
“I take something, get it to work, then I sell it; take something, get it to work, sell it,” Matt Badali said. “That’s basically what I did my whole life. I needed another challenge.”
My Son’s Rib Shack was supposed to be a retirement hobby after truck driving. With the success the rib shack has had, however, “this is more work then when I was working,” said Matt Badali.
“It’s a constant worry, constant fear, constantly making sure he’s doing everything he’s supposed to be doing [and] not overdoing what he’s not supposed to be overdoing,” Sharon Badali said. “Nagging, in other words.”
This will be his last endeavor though, Matt Badali explained. In April of 2018, he started feeling chest pain. His doctor said to stay away from certain foods. Still, the chest pain continued. A visit a few months later involved a blood test. On the night of the visit, Matt Badali received a call from the doctor’s office.
“I’m at Costco at 8:15 that night, July 13. I get a phone call. The doctor says, ‘we don’t know how you’re walking, let alone being alive. You need to go straight to the emergency room.”
The hospital proceeded to give Matt Badali open-heart surgery. The shack had to close for multiple weeks, which did not mean the end of the business.
“We have good customers. They proved that to us when we had to shut down for a while,” Sharon Badali said. “They all came back.”
In October of the same year, Matt Badali had to visit his doctor again because his “blood count was high.” Probably from the open-heart surgery, the doctors thought. The results came back as leukemia.
“So here I am in October, taking chemotherapy pills every day for the rest of my life, like $15,000 a month to survive,” he said. “Insurance is paying most of it. So, that’s ok. I’m ok with that.”
In March of 2019, Matt Badali had trouble breathing. After a failed stress test followed by a catheterization, his doctors had to perform a heart stem. He continues to visit doctors to monitor his heart and to change prescriptions.
Still, Matt Badali keeps doing what he loves at My Son’s Rib Shack with the support of his wife. The doctors did not place any restrictions on him except to stop if something hurts. With loyal customers and a will to work, the Badali’s are waiting for this door to close and another to open. After all, Sharon Badali explained, “that’s all you can do.”
“I have all the excuses in the world to lay down and say ‘I don’t want to do this. I can’t do this.’ But that doesn’t phase me. I work because I enjoy working, not because I have to,” Matt Badali said.