By Leila Molana-Allen
HELL'S KITCHEN — After a "For Sale" sign went up in the window at Manganaro's Grosseria Italiana last week, several news outlets reported that the Hell's Kitchen institution was set to close after more than a century in business.
But now the owner's daughter is denying the closure, and the "For Sale" has been removed.
Owner Salvatore Dell'Orto told the Wall Street Journal on Sunday that after he became ill last year, he started to worry that his five daughters would not be able to run the store, at 488 Ninth Ave., on their own. "We've had it," he told the paper.
Inside the once thriving store, the shelves were almost bare Monday, with only a few items in the freezer. In the small seating area at the back sat only two customers, although it was the middle of the lunchtime rush.
When asked to comment on the purportedly imminent closure, the proprietress, one of the two of Dell'Orte's five daughters who still run the shop, turned her back with a curt, "Have a nice day." She then spat out, "It's you [reporters] that's f**ked it all up. We're not closing, that's the point." She refused, however, to discuss the matter any further.
One comment posted on midtownlunch.com reads, "There's no excuse for rude service and over-priced food. Let this dinosaur go extinct."
It's a very different story at the sandwich shop next door, Manganaro's Hero Boy, which is co-owned by Anthony Dell'Orte, oldest son of Salvatore's brother James. That store has expanded to fill a double lot on the street and recently had a $180,000 refit. The shelves are heaving with merchandise.
Anthony believes that customer service is one of the main reasons for the decline of the grocery next door. "We've made changes and kept up with the market, while they've sat on their laurels and hoped people will walk through the door. And then when they do, they yell at them! I get three or four customers a day who say they've been yelled at next door."
Manganaro's Grosseria Italiana originally opened as Petrucci's Wine and Spirits in 1893, but the name was changed after the current owner's uncle bought the store in 1919, turning it into a traditional Italian grocery store to cater to the needs of the surrounding immigrant population.
When the family opened a sandwich shop next door in 1956, Manganaro's Hero Boy, they split the ownership of the two businesses between their four sons. Together, they designed the 6-foot Hero sandwich, called the Hero Boy, which became the main attraction of the businesses.
But soon the sandwich shop and the grocery store began to compete for customers, sparking a now more than 50-year-old feud between the owner of Manganaro's Hero Boy, 74-year-old James Dell'Orto, and his brother Salvatore, the owner of the grocery.
The two brothers have not spoken in more than 10 years — except through lawyers — as they negotiated a series of complex legal battles revolving around the name Manganaro's and whether the grocery store should be allowed to refer to their own sandwiches as Manganaro's Hero Boy sandwiches.
A judgement from a 1989 trial written by Justice Harold Baer, read, "An arrangement by which the parties combine their skills, energies and market strength, to say nothing of their ingenuity, would seem to make more sense than continued combat, which only saps the health of the brothers and the two businesses and aids their competitors."
But the two family factions have been unable to let bygones be bygones.
"They do what they do. We don't have any contact," Anthony said as he worked in the sandwich shop on Monday.
As to whether the grocery store would actually close and the building be sold, he said he had his doubts. "Ten years ago, after the settlement [in which Salvatore was ordered to pay James $422,000 in damages for violating a 1989 judgement], they said they were going close. So I don't believe they'll close now," he said.