Under a red tiled awning on the corner of Second and Grand streets sits a Hoboken landmark and institution, Leo’s Grandevous, which will celebrate its 80th anniversary with a block party on April 27.
Leo’s Grandevous began in 1939 when Leo and Tessie DiTerlizzi had the opportunity to turn a bar into a restaurant which has been family owned and operated ever since it first opened its doors.
Now generations of families and first-time visitors who can’t resist becoming regulars visit the restaurant for its home-cooked Italian meals, Frank Sinatra memorabilia, and jukebox.
How it began
According to Nick DePalma, Leo’s grandson, who owns the business, and his sister Grace Sciancalepore, the general manager, Leo’s began after it’s prior owner moved back to Italy and sold the bar for $500 to one of his employees, named Leo.
Leo worked part-time at the bar after his shifts in the Neumann Leathers building, which was a leather factory.
“It was every immigrant’s dream or desire to live the American dream,” said DePalma.
Back then, it was only a bar with a few pool tables where men would gather to play cards or shoot some pool.
It grew into a restaurant after Leo’s wife Tessie began cooking meals upstairs in their apartment and bringing them down for the bar patrons and pool players.
“She would make steamed mussels or marinara sauce and meatballs and people would come in and ask my grandfather what his wife was making that day so he decided to scrap the pool tables and build a kitchen,” said DePalma.
Once the Western Union Telegraph business closed next door, Leo bought the property to add to the bar and turned it into the kitchen so Tessie wouldn’t have to keep going up and down the stairs.
Over the years there has always been a member of the family running the business, and Sciancalepore and DePalma grew up spending their time at Leo’s
“I think my fondest memory of Grandpa Leo is he had this tradition on Friday nights before we opened for dinner he went up and would dance with all the waitresses,” said Sciancalepore. “I remember that vividly.”
DePalma said he couldn’t just pick one memory because Leo’s Grandevous has been so involved in the lives of its patrons.
“I’ve been involved in the restaurant for 32 years and all the memories seem to melt together,” said DePalma. “We have people celebrating birthdays, getting engaged, having weddings here, we’ve had wakes here and that to us is so special, but for our customers it’s monumental.”
“It’s just fun to look out when the restaurant is packed on a Friday night and you see everyone enjoying themselves. It’s been going on since 1939. It makes you feel like you are part of something bigger,” said DePalma.
Anyone who has gone to dine at Leo’s Grandevous knows it has one of the largest collections of Frank Sinatra material as the walls are covered with photographs and even a surfboard of Hoboken’s famous crooner.
“Not many people have that,” laughed DePalma.
He said his favorite was actually a picture of Sinatra given to him by his father-in-law that hangs in a back corner in the dining room.
It is framed along with a Frank Sinatra autograph signed during Sinatra’s visit to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Another is a painting of Sinatra, which is hung near the Jukebox.
“There’s a painting of Sinatra with a green background that has been here a long time, since the early 70s, which was given to my uncle when he was running Leo’s,” said DePalma. “It was in lieu of payment. There was a guy here who didn’t have any money and said ‘You know, I’m hungry, and I am an artist,’ and he painted a portrait and brought it in the next day to pay for his dinner.”
“We have all the stories we hear that grandpa fed a lot of people and in the ’70s people were hard on their luck,” said Sciancalepore.
“We had people come in and say the economy was bad and they just wanted a beer and a meal and that our grandfather didn’t charge them and they will always remember that,” said DePalma.
Leo’s Grandevous also has one of the largest selections of Sinatra’s music on their jukebox.
“Sinatra’s music and the growth and experiences of the people who come to Leo’s mirror one another. It is the perfect marriage,” said DePalma. “You have love, you have heartbreak, like in the song ‘A Very Good Year,’ he talks about his life and it mirrors the lives of people coming in here.”
To celebrate its anniversary Leo’s is holding a block party on April 27 on Second Street from Grand to Adams Street. The restaurant held a block party when it celebrated its 50th anniversary.
The block party begins at 12 p.m. and will include performances by The Fuzzy Lemons, Casey and The Dirty Water Dogs, and Matthew Friedman & Uptown Sounds as well as face painting, and a special presentation from the city at 3 p.m.
There will also be an outside beer garden and specials from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., including 80 cent pizzas.
Sciancalepore said it was important to celebrate the milestone with the entire community, noting that Hoboken isn’t just where she works but were she and her family live.
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