Local Italian Restaurant Owners Adapt to Foreign Demographic

By DEVIN BOOTH

STAFF WRITER

Joseph Magliussci, owner of Mario’s Restaurant, says his business has undergone changes, just like its home in the Bronx.  (Photo by Christina Fereini/The Ram)
Joseph Magliussci, owner of Mario’s Restaurant, says his business has undergone changes, just like its home in the Bronx. (Photo by Christina Fereini/The Ram)

“Fordham University has always played a big role in the community, and it seems to only be getting bigger,” Gabriel Lizzi said via email. Lizzi has worked as a waiter for the past 25 years at the famous Dominick’s Restaurant on Arthur Avenue, known for serving family-style portions and yelling out the bill instead of writing it down. Lizzi has experienced the changes around Fordham’s neighborhood and knows there are more to come.

Fordham University and the surrounding Little Italy neighborhood of the Bronx certainly have undergone many changes in recent decades, and they will certainly continue to transform in the future. The owners and workers of some of the staple Italian restaurants and shops on Arthur Avenue, including Mario’s Restaurant and Dominick’s Restaurant, talked about the transformations to the neighborhood and University they have seen and speculated on what the future holds.

Orazio Carciotto, the owner of the Zagat-rated cheese shop Casa Della Mozzarella, explained the transformation of residents in the neighborhood he has  seen in  last 20 years.

“The neighborhood used to be 90 percent Italian, but now the majority of residents are Albanian, Mexican or Chinese,” Carciotto said in his thick Italian accent, surrounded by the pounds of packaged pasta and other Italian goods piled floor to ceiling in his small shop.

Lizzi concurs with Carciotto’s memory of the flight of Italian residents to other parts  of the Tri-State area. “What was once a neighborhood made up of mostly Italian residents has drastically changed over the last 30 years,” said Lizzi. “Most moved to other parts of the Bronx.”

Joseph Magliucci said he started working at his father’s restaurant when he was 13, back when it was called Migliucci’s. Around that time, he said his cousin Mario would bring his friends back to the restaurant after school, and they would always say they were going to Mario’s, so eventually the restaurant’s name changed to Mario’s. Today, Migliucci is the owner of Mario’s, and he said he has seen all the Italian kids move out and Albanians and other immigrants take their place.

When asked about changes Fordham University has undergone and the school’s influence on their businesses, all the men agreed that over the years Fordham has helped their businesses succeed.

Lizzi made mention of another factor in the businesses success.

“The amount of off-campus housing has increased greatly over the years which has helped neighborhood businesses,” Lizzi said.

Giancarlo Paciullo, the man in charge of the legendary Tino’s Delicatessen for the past 18 years, has become a familiar face among Fordham Students and his establishment has become a fixture of catered Fordham events. Paciullo said his business has gradually increased thanks to the growing popularity of Fordham and the pull of neighborhood restaurants, such as Roberto’s, which is owned by his brother.

Migliucci also credits the popularity of Fordham events with increasing revenue, especially this most recent football season.

“Gradually Fordham has gotten larger, and the football games and parents weekends brings a lot of students and parents into the restaurant,” Magliucci said.

Casa Della Mozzarella has also gradually benefited from Italian-loving shoppers and  Fordham students’ business.

Unlike restaurant owners, Carciotto has noticed a change in student behaviors that have slightly decreased his cheese and pasta shop sales.

“Students used to cook a lot more,” he said. “They used to come buy pasta and ingredients at my shop to cook, but today they take the easier way and eat out more, because they don’t have their mommy there to clean up after them and they don’t want to clean up themselves.”

One Fordham student attempted to clarify.

“I’m lazy a lot of the time and I know that my pasta or anything else I try to make will never taste half as good as the stuff I can buy on Arthur Avenue,” Ryan Ennis, GSB ’14, said.

Looking toward the future, the respective outlooks of the business owners in the Little Italy section of the Bronx are optimistic regarding both the neighborhood and Fordham.

Lizzi sees all the popular attractions of the Bronx growing in the future and helping to keep the traditions of Little Italy alive.

“Fordham, The Zoo, Botanical Gardens and Yankee Stadium events certainly play a large role in keeping the community alive. I don’t see any of these factors declining at any point in the future; rather [they] keep getting bigger and better,” she said.

“I think Fordham and the neighborhood are just going to get better and better in the future,” Magliucci said.