Since 1982, John Mannino has been dishing up deliciously handcrafted pizza and Italian cuisine to his beloved Rockaway customers. However, after almost four decades of living and working in the community he loves, he’s decided to finally hang up his apron, and return to his family home with his wife, Kim Mannino, in Sicily, Italy.
Giovanni Battista Mannino grew up in Torretta, a mountainous small town located in the metropolitan city of Palermo in Sicily. Mannino said that his family were farmers, and that farm life was all he knew, but was yearning for something more. “I was young and wanted to see the world beyond Torretta. Farm life is all I knew, and really wanted to experience a different life in America. So at age 19, I got my plane ticket to come to NYC,” he said.
Mannino said when he arrived at the airport, immigration immediately took him in and gave him a tuberculosis shot, and a green card. “In those days, immigration used to do everything right there in the airport. The immigration officer asked him his name, and he proudly stated, “Giovanni Battista Mannino.” However, when he looked at the paper, the officer wrote something different. “I kept trying to explain my correct name, but all he wrote was ‘John Mannino.’ So now, here I am in a new country with a new name. This is why most people just know me as John. It’s my American name.”
For Mannino, it was the first of many changes to come. First, he had to learn the language of his new city. Mannino said it took him three months to learn English, and then he started working in construction, but then switched gears, and came to Rockaway to work with his cousin at Rockaway Pizza, which was located on Beach 115th Street.
“I was hired as a dish washer, but then I saw how much money the guys making the pizza were earning, so I said to myself, ‘I’m going to learn how to make pizza so I can make money like them. I would just go in the back, and try to knead the dough, and carefully watch what the other guys were doing,” Mannino said.
Then in 1982, he stared working at the Original Ciro’s on Beach 116th Street. “I worked with Sal Licata at Ciro’s and began not just making pizza, but also Italian cuisine. “In those days, because Playland was open, Rockaway was always packed with people. We were so busy, not just with visitors, but people in the neighborhood, who loved our food. The kids would come on their skateboards and hang out in front. Rockaway was so lively then. However, looking back, I really don’t think the community has changed much. For me the community is like a big family. Now those ‘kids,’ have children of their own and some even have grandchildren. I’m truly going to miss their faces and seeing them every day. After almost four decades living and working in the community, moving permanently back home to Torretta is definitely going to be a lifestyle change, but as much as I’ll miss Rockaway, I’m looking forward to going home,” Mannino said.
When asked what inspired him to make the move, Mannino explained that he wants to be there for his father and mother. “My parents are still alive and are strong, but farm work is hard. My father, Carlo, is 84 years old and recently had a stroke, and my mother, Cecilia, is 84. On their farm, they grow olives and rear sheep, lambs and chickens. It’s hard work, so I think it’s time that I go home and take over for my papà and mamma, and tend the farm. My wife, Kim, is going to be with me, so what more do I need? Life will be good,” Mannino said.
Mannino’s last day at Ciro’s is Sunday, April 28, and within a few days after, he and Kim will be saying their final goodbye to Rockaway and fly out to Torretta.
Kim admits she is nervous about the change, but is excited about the adventures ahead. “I’m a New Yorker, so this is a pretty daunting new journey for me, but I love Torretta and John’s family, so it will just take time for me to adapt to a completely new life.
However Kim says she’s proud of the reputation John has built here, boasting about the awards John has won for his community work with the youth in Rockaway. “I’m proud of what John accomplished here in Rockaway. He used to teach the art of making pizza with students from St. Francis de Sales and has participated in beach cleanups with the local children. He doesn’t like to talk too much about himself, but I know he’s truly made his mark in Rockaway,” Kim said.
Mannino’s co-workers, Lorenzo and Mario, said they are beyond happy for John, but sad to see him go. Lorenzo said, “We will miss very much. John is family. I wish him all the best on his retirement. It’s good that he gets to go home and take care of his family. It’s a beautiful thing.” And as for Mario, he wishes John, buono fortuna (good luck). “I hope that he comes back and pays us a visit,” Mario said.
Giovanni Battista Mannino, your Rockaway family will miss you. Torna presto a trovarci! Come again to visit us soon!BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS