Astoria man who aided 911 workers dies at 86

By Nathan Duke

An Astoria man who ensured that Ground Zero workers and emergency responders were fed for up to seven months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks died earlier this month at age 86, his son said.

Rocco Vendome, born in 1922, immigrated with his wife and two sons to the United States from Avellino, Italy, in 1955, arriving in the city and moving straight to 29th Street in Astoria, according to Nino Vendome, his son.

In 1973, he opened Nino’s Heroes on Spring Street in Manhattan and, two years later, opened Nino’s Restaurant on Canal Street with his son.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, Vendome decided to keep his Canal Street operation open 24 hours a day for months and provided 8,000 square feet of warehouse space at his Spring Street locale for emergency responders to set up shop, his son said. The restaurant served thousands of free meals to Ground Zero workers, he said.

“When the attacks occurred, we shut down like every other business,” Nino Vendome said. “In the aftermath, we thought about what we could do to help. My father opened the restaurant to all those who were involved with the emergency effort. It took on its own life. We realized we couldn’t close.”

Vendome said his father operated the restaurant around−the−clock for seven months after the terrorist attack. He said the eatery would serve an estimated 150 people per day prior to the attacks, but as many as 500 per day in the months following 911.

“People were working 18−hour shifts,” he said. “And we had about 10,000 volunteers come through who helped serve at the restaurant. My dad was there throughout the whole process to do whatever he could — to serve or console.”

Josephine Vendome, Rocco’s wife, said the restaurant served millions of people in the months following the attacks. She said her husband will be missed by many people across the five boroughs.

“He was a great man, a great husband and a great father,” she said.

Funeral services for Rocco Vendome were held Jan. 17 at Astoria’s Immaculate Conception Church.

Nino Vendome said he was amazed by the outpouring of people who attended his father’s funeral ceremony.

“A friend said to me, ‘Your father was a great guy,’ ” he said. “He never had a bad thing to say about anyone. That was my dad. Whatever happened, regardless of hardship or pain, his reaction was always one of compassion. He enjoyed what this country had to offer. He was a gentle soul.”

Rocco Vendome is survived by his wife, Josephine, and two sons, Nino and Genero, as well as four grandchildren.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.