Brothers Albie and Chris Manzo know well where they got their fame, the phenomenon that is reality TV. “We don’t confuse ourselves with anyone who has a talent,” says Chris. But certainly what the 20-somethings do have is charisma, work ethic, and—most important—each other. They live and work together, and together, they are making the most of their 15 minutes.
At ages 22 and 19, the brothers were introduced to a national audience after their mother, Caroline Manzo, was cast in Bravo’s reality TV hit, “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” Packed with tearful family dramas, vicious rivalries, catfights, love, loss, and a whole lot of levity (thanks to the Manzo brothers), the show has had three successful seasons.
Before the first episode aired, Chris says he thought about how cool it would be to appear on the show. Now, both brothers have been in several episodes and even had their own web series spin-off, “Boys to Manzo,” on Bravotv.com. The series, mostly filmed in Hoboken, highlights how different the brothers are from one another. “I don’t think if you scoured the globe that you could find two brothers more opposite than me and Chris,” says Albie in one of the webisodes.
Albie, now 26, is a neat-nick with a preference for sport coats. On the show, he’s told he’s handsome by just about everyone but criticized for taking just about everything too seriously. Chris, now 23, is a jokester who wears whatever is clean and takes life day-by-day. But when they’re together, they have balance. “We need each other pretty bad,” says Chris.
The Manzos say they don’t even think about the cameras anymore and live as if they don’t have a crew in tow. “We are not acting,” Chris says. “This is a reality show.” Their move into a three-bedroom apartment on River Street in Hoboken with Albie’s college friend, Greg Bennett, was filmed two years ago. Since then, they’ve appeared at charity events and fundraisers in town and hosted tasting parties at local bars and restaurants. Chris even worked at the Wicked Wolf Tavern for a while. “We wanted to be somewhere we could have a good time and just enjoy our young 20s,” says Chris. “This is really the perfect spot.” The brothers say they’ve gotten to know a lot of people in town, and now whenever they leave their apartment, they almost always see a familiar face. “It’s like walking the high-school hallways,” says Chris.
Despite their rise to stardom, the brothers have remained grounded. “We never use the word ‘celebrity’ to describe ourselves,” Chris says. And the people who watch the show are just that, says Albie, people who watch the show. The Manzos never say they have “fans.” But they also have critics, and it sometimes bothers them when people tag them as spoiled rich kids. “We didn’t grow up extremely wealthy,” says Albie. For a good part of their childhoods, the brothers lived with their parents and sister in Wayne, in a house that would fit into the master bedroom of the house their parents currently own in Franklin Lakes.
As a freshman in high school, moving to a town known for McMansions and BMWs was a bit of a culture shock for Albie. “It’s a lot of people who have a lot of money,” he says. One of the first questions his classmates asked him was what his parents did for a living. “We really don’t care what your bank account is,” Albie says. The Manzos have never taken their success for granted. Their father turned a modest catering hall called the Brownstone into a well-respected, widely recognized business. And their mother, a dedicated stay-at-home mom, became the host of her own radio show after her three kids moved out. “We understand the value of hard work,” Chris says.
The brothers have also used their fame to launch their careers. “We have been doing some amazing things since the show started,” says Chris. The brothers are now proud co-owners of blk. Beverages, selling water infused with fulvic minerals, and they are spokesmen for a few other brands, including Levendi Wines, Krome Vodka, and Tributo Tequila. “We are not the beverage mold,” Chris says. They are much younger than a lot of their colleagues in the industry.
While Albie has an undergraduate degree in business from Fordham University, Chris threw off his cap at his high school graduation and never looked back. Instead of going to college, he joined his father at the Brownstone, where he worked very long hours. “There’s no such thing as part time there,” Chris says. Sometimes he would be cleaning up after a party until 4:30 a.m. and have to return to work only a few hours later. “We did a million different things there,” he says. He learned what it took to put together weddings, banquets, and barbecues at town pools, but at 21, he wanted to explore other possibilities.
Albie had also been searching. After struggling through a year at law school, he enrolled at the Passaic County Police Academy while deciding whether he wanted to pursue the degree. He says he had fun driving police cars, shooting guns, and learning how to cope with being pepper sprayed, but he never wanted to become an officer.
Albie had his aha moment while at a food show in Manhattan with his uncle. The pair met two women who had been organic syrup dealers but instead decided to bottle the water that is now the blk. product. The women came up with the formula after trying to find something that might help their mother through chemotherapy. “We knew this was a huge opportunity,” says Albie. The brothers decided to put their marketing skills to the test.
In addition to its formula, the water has another unique quality that makes it easy to sell: its black color. “We have such a major advantage over anyone else,” Chris says. If it was a transparent beverage like its competitors, potential customers wouldn’t be nearly as curious. People want to know what makes the water black and whether it still tastes like regular water. “They have more questions than we can even explain,” says Chris. Apparently, it’s working. Albie says blk. is selling well coast to coast but especially in California, New York, and New Jersey. Hobokenites can get it at their local Kings Food Market for $1.99 a bottle.
After the Manzos got involved with blk. Beverages, they got more business offers. “One thing we’ve learned,” says Albie, “is your life can change in a phone call.” Though still young, the brothers have embraced their new challenges. “I still don’t look at myself as a real grownup yet,” says Chris, “but I definitely realize that I have responsibilities, and I don’t just represent myself anymore. There’s always a lot of balls in the air, but now is the time to do it.”
Though the brothers spend a lot of time in the black blk. sprinter van traveling to cities all over the country, they just extended their lease in Hoboken and plan to stay a while. And despite how it may appear to onlookers, their lives haven’t changed that much. “We still go to family dinner every Sunday,” Chris says. “We all cook. There’s always a family fight, then a big family joke, and everybody leaves happy.”
While becoming men and businessmen, the brothers have learned a lot from each other. They spend almost 24 hours a day together now, but the only consequence is the occasional silent car ride when they’ve run out of things to talk about.
The Manzos say that five years from now, they might still be trying to expand their brands or traveling more for pleasure or maybe even filming their own TV show. Whatever it is, it’ll be big, it’ll be together, and it will be Manzo.—07030