The Long Island City community is mourning the loss of restaurateur Vincenzo Cerbone, who died this week after a brief illness just a few days shy of his 91st birthday, according to his family.
Cerbone and his wife Ida owned Manducatis Restaurant on the corner of Jackson Avenue and 47th Avenue for nearly a half-century, where he enjoyed being with his family and serving “beautiful people,” which is how he described his customers through the years.
Vincenzo and Ida Cerbone opened Manducatis Restaurant on Christmas Day, 1977, after they returned to the United States following a long, protracted stay in Italy, where Ida was born in Naples and Vincenzo was raised in a small town in the Cassino region. They started small with one room in the restaurant and a refrigerator from their own apartment along with the pots and pans that Ida had received at her bridal shower.
In the beginning, Ida ran the kitchen alone while Vincenzo ran the bar and served the patrons.
“You do what you know,” became his mantra as the restaurant expanded with the addition of two comfortable dining rooms, one with brick walls and an upright piano decked with wine bottles.
Business picked up in the 1980s and the Cerbone children began to wait tables, including their daughter Gianna Cerbone-Teoli, who went on to open Manducatis Rustica on Vernon Avenue.
“He was just an amazing man. After losing his mother and three siblings when the family home was bombed during World War II, he served in the Carabinieri in Italy and then in the First Infantry Division in the U.S. Army, the Big Red One,” Cerbone-Teoli said. “He was a legend and he leaves a legacy of love behind him here in America and in Italy.”
She added that Manducatis became a home away from home for generations of Long Island City families, as well as politicians and entertainers, and her father would do anything to help his neighbors.
“There is no greater feeling than to see the patrons that dated at Manducatis come in with grandchildren,” the couple wrote on their restaurant’s website. “It makes our uphill beginnings worthwhile. The years have flown by and through the rushes and quiet spells that very often ensue at such a business, we still work essentially the same.”
Vincenzo Cerbone and his family were at the very heart of Long Island City for decades, and his absence will be felt deeply, community leaders said.
“The Hunters Point Civic Association is deeply saddened by the passing of Vincenzo Cerbone, his impact and dedication to our neighborhood was immeasurable,” the civic group said. “This is a deep loss for our community. We sincerely appreciate all his service.”
His wake will be held Sunday, Dec. 5, from 2 to 5 p.m. at Hess Miller Funeral Home, located at 64-19 Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village. The Mass will be held Monday, Dec. 6, at 11 a.m. at St. Mary’s Church, located at 1008 49th Ave. in Long Island City. His burial will be in Italy.
“Mr. and Mrs. Cerbone planted their flag in Long Island City and made it a home not just for their family, but for hundreds of New Yorkers who came to love the neighborhood at their generous table,” LIC Partnership President Elizabeth Lusskin said. “We thank them both for all they have done to make LIC blossom, and our deep condolences go out to his wonderful family.”