By: Emma Seiwell

 

Hoboken, New Jersey nicknamed the Mile Square City is most well-known as the birthplace of Frank Sinatra and the birthplace of America’s pastime: baseball.

Historically, Hoboken was home to a large Italian immigrant population and its Italian roots are still deeply entwined in the town’s culture today. Hoboken ports on the Hudson established by transatlantic shipping companies were the final stops for many ships bringing European immigrants to America. Between 1880 and 1900 the Italian immigrant population grew exponentially, ultimately becoming the largest immigrant population in Hoboken by 1920. Hoboken Story 1

The legacy of early Italian immigrants is maintained most evidently in Hoboken’s abundance of long-standing, often family-run Italian eateries and shops. Many have been serving the Hoboken community for forty years or more.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants have had to transform their businesses to follow take-out and delivery only restrictions which have been in place for over two months now. In a less than ideal situation, restaurant owners have risen to the occasion, altering their operations entirely to safely and conveniently serve customers.

Mario Pati, co-owner of three year old Italian eatery San Giuseppe said, “We know that we really have to focus on our delivery business. We expanded our menu, offering different and cheaper options.”

Orders are steady but Pati explained that the majority of their profits come from the now-obsolete dine-in sales on busy weekend nights. Additionally, they had to cancel around 25 of the event catering accounts they had scheduled between March and June.

“We would have to quadruple the amount of deliveries that we do just to meet what our business used to be.” he said.

Regardless, Mario and his brother Giuseppe are eager to continue operating. “We really do love the Hoboken community and we want to serve the community. That’s why we want to give it a shot.” Mario said.

Second-generation owner of iconic deli Fiore’s House of Quality John Jr. Amato said, “I’m helping my business stay afloat, providing a service to people and I’m keeping myself busy. It made more sense to go back to work and do whatever I can do.”

The deli had to shut down for a week in April when help became scarce. Amato explained, some of their employees are “up there in age” and decided it was safest to stay home at the time.

They have since replenished staff and are currently open Monday through Saturday, serving their hearty sandwiches and famous fresh mozzarella made every day to go. Although business was down forty percent in their worst weeks of the lockdown, Amato has seen a significant increase in business within the last month.

In recent weeks, lines start to form early in the morning down Adams Street. “People have been very good about keeping their distance.” Amato noted.

Hoboken Story 3Hoboken Story 2

Another staple in town, Lisa’s Deli has been serving Hoboken since 1971. It was opened by Italian immigrants Pietro and Caterina Lisa who came from Salerno.

Second generation owner, Tony Lisa said, “We’re suffering a little bit because people aren’t walking around or coming in like they used to.” Due to financial strain they’ve had to lay off some staff members.

To bolster sales, they’re using third party delivery app, GrubHub. Although it serves as a platform to get more customers, they struggle with the exorbitant fees that GrubHub charges which significantly cut into their profits. Fees range from 10-30% of every sale made.

“It doesn’t really make us much but that’s the only resource right now.” Lisa said.

For many fine-dining restaurants, shifting to take-out has been difficult. Italian restaurant Augustino’s Kitchen & Bar is currently offering take-out five days a week. Co-owner Sharon Yandoli said, “The biggest challenge is doing soley take-out. The chefs are still getting used to it.”

Although take-out sales don’t match dine-in Yandoli is grateful for everyone supporting them. “Our customers are very special to us.” she said.

While restaurant owners have had the option to remain open under new guidelines, some non-essential businesses have had closed doors for two months.

 

All business owners grapple with the day to day challenges of their new normal. Some have started planning ahead for New Jersey’s eventual reopening. Co-owner of one of Hoboken’s oldest Italian eateries, Leo’s Grandevous, Grace Sciancalepore co-chairs the Economic Recovery Task Force assembled by Mayor Bhalla.

Leo’s Grandevous was established in 1939 by Leo and Tessie DiTerrlizzi. Over the years they decorated the restaurant with memorabilia of Hoboken’s “favorite son” who had also been Leo’s childhood friend: Frank Sinatra. Sciancalepore and her brother Nick DePalma now co-own Leo’s, maintaining their grandparent’s legacy.

In a clip on NBC News Sciancalepore discussed their future plans for Leo’s. Upon reopening, masks will be available to customers and regular cleaning of seating areas will be implemented. DePalma has hung sheets of plexiglass on coat racks that will serve as moveable shields in between tables.

A Small Business Recovery Strategy released by the city laid out the framework for the gradual reopening of businesses. In anticipation of reduced indoor capacities, Hoboken leaders have proposed expanded utilization of public outdoor spaces. If enacted into law, some streets will close for pedestrian walkways, and extensive outdoor dining and retail operations on sidewalks will be allowed.

Sciancalepore hopes to utilize sidewalk space across the street from her restaurant to fit an additional six to ten dining tables.

Hoboken residents are likely missing dining out at their favorite local spot, and restaurant owners are missing their customers equally so. Co-owner of San Giuseppes Mario Pati said, “Because we spend so much time here at the restaurant the customers almost become an extension to your family.”

Third generation co-owners of Leo’s Grandevous Sciancalepore and DePalma shared a video on social media sending a message to their customers. Sciancalepore states, “We are Hoboken. We are a strong community. We will get through this and we can’t wait to see you back here once we have all our safety precautions in place.”

All business owners grapple with the day to day challenges of their new normal. Some have started planning ahead for New Jersey’s eventual reopening. Co-owner of one of Hoboken’s oldest Italian eateries, Leo’s Grandevous, Grace Sciancalepore co-chairs the Economic Recovery Task Force assembled by Mayor Bhalla.

Leo’s Grandevous was established in 1939 by Leo and Tessie DiTerrlizzi. Over the years they decorated the restaurant with memorabilia of Hoboken’s “favorite son” who had also been Leo’s childhood friend: Frank Sinatra. Sciancalepore and her brother Nick DePalma now co-own Leo’s, maintaining their grandparent’s legacy.

In a clip on NBC News Sciancalepore discussed their future plans for Leo’s. Upon reopening, masks will be available to customers and regular cleaning of seating areas will be implemented. DePalma has hung sheets of plexiglass on coat racks that will serve as moveable shields in between tables.

A Small Business Recovery Strategy released by the city laid out the framework for the gradual reopening of businesses. In anticipation of reduced indoor capacities, Hoboken leaders have proposed expanded utilization of public outdoor spaces. If enacted into law, some streets will close for pedestrian walkways, and extensive outdoor dining and retail operations on sidewalks will be allowed.

Sciancalepore hopes to utilize sidewalk space across the street from her restaurant to fit an additional six to ten dining tables.

Hoboken residents are likely missing dining out at their favorite local spot, and restaurant owners are missing their customers equally so. Co-owner of San Giuseppes Mario Pati said, “Because we spend so much time here at the restaurant the customers almost become an extension to your family.”

Third generation co-owners of Leo’s Grandevous Sciancalepore and DePalma shared a video on social media sending a message to their customers. Sciancalepore states, “We are Hoboken. We are a strong community. We will get through this and we can’t wait to see you back here once we have all our safety precautions in place.”

 

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

If you’re looking to support Hoboken businesses during these times consider ordering takeout or buying gift cards. Try to avoid using delivery apps and order directly from restaurants if they have their own delivery services. See this map to determine which businesses are open.

Or if you’d prefer to donate consider the Hoboken Relief Fund. Alternatively check out Hoboken Girl’s list of resources here.

Hoboken locals have come together to form Front Line Appreciation Group (FLAG). Their mission is to provide meals to Hoboken’s front-line workers and to support local restaurants. They collect donations to pay restaurants to cook and deliver food to hospitals, first responders and other essential businesses.