Joe Pierce meets Douglas and Massimo Lisi

Bringing people together

We always knew that Stranraer Oyster Festival is an event that brings the whole community together, but never in our wildest dreams did we expect our festival to help connect long-lost family members! 

If you’ve visited Stranraer Oyster Festival before then Massimo and Douglas Lisi will be familiar faces.  

For close to 50 years the Lisi family ran L’Aperitif restaurant, founded by the late Natale Lisi in 1965 and then run by his sons Massimo and Douglas. Today Douglas delights diners at Tigh Na Mara, Massimo creates amazing cocktails at Laggan, and both have supported Stranraer Oyster Festival since it was little more than an idea. 

It turns out that our community’s oyster festival was to prove life changing for them, their sister and a brother they never knew existed! 

You can read the full story in the pages of today's Sunday Post (6 August 2023), but here’s a quick summary.

A story of love 

Joe Pierce from Connecticut, USA, spent his early childhood in Bo'ness, being raised by his grandparents. It was later in life that he discovered more about his mother Helen's life and the name of his real father. 

He didn’t have much to go on, just a name, the fact he was an Italian chef who had worked at a hotel in North Berwick in 1952. It was there that he and Joe's mother met and fell in love when she worked there as a chambermaid.

When Helen became pregnant, Joe's father confessed he was betrothed to a girl back at home. So Helen told him to return home to Italy to his fiancé, while she went back to her home town of Bo’ness and gave birth to her son, Joe.

Joe emigrated to the United States to join his mother at the age of eleven and a half, where she had relocated. She married and had daughters Emily and Elizabeth.

A discovery of oysters 

Last year Emily Casinelli, Joe's half-sister set in motion a chain of events which led to Joe tracking down his half-siblings in Stranraer.

Emily searched online for 'Best oysters in Scotland', having returned from a seaside vacation to Maine, one of the top places in the US for oysters. 

She wondered how strange it was that all the times she had visited Scotland, with its similarly cold waters, she’d never had oysters there. One of the first hits that came up was about Stranraer Oyster Festival with a photo of Douglas and Massimo who host events and demonstrations at the festival. 

She instantly recognized the surname Lisi as the same as Joe's father Natale Lisi and spotted a strong family resemblance. Emily immediately sent Joe a text with the photo saying "I think I just found your father!" 

Joe's entire family had been searching for years looking for his father in Italy. They believed he had returned to Sicily in 1952. Instead, he had married his fiance and then moved to Portpatrick and then Stranraer where he was happily married to Maria. The couple had three children; Massimo, Douglas and Romana.

A connection across oceans

Joe's family contacted Massimo online, who was both shocked and delighted to learn of Joe’s story. The families have since happily reunited and Stranraer Oyster Festival is delighted to play a small part in this beautiful family reunion.

Romano Petrucci of Stranraer Development Trust said: 

“This is an incredible and heartwarming story, some people in our community will be aware of it, many will not. Everyone will be surprised at the miraculous nature of how it came about. The most beautiful of people presented with this unbelievable occurrence in their life that changes the direction of the rest of their days forever. 

“No one at the Trust could ever have believed that their 8 years of determination and hard work to make Stranraer a better place to live through this oyster festival would result in such a joyous outcome. We are immensely proud this day and grateful to the Lisi Family for their togetherness and for allowing us to share their joy.”