Carbone's restaurant in Crabtree closing after 80 years
An end of an era is coming at the end of the month, when Carbone's, one of two landmark Italian restaurants in the tiny village of Crabtree, will close after 80 years.
"It's bittersweet," Natalie Carbone Mangini of Crabtree, the daughter of the founders, Natale and Mary Carbone, said Sunday of the family's plans to close the restaurant July 28.
In a poignant message on Facebook that was posted on Saturday night, the family said the decision was "agonizing, distressing, tearful and not made in haste."
"For some members of our family, they have never known anything but the restaurant, and the majority of their lives have revolved around it," the statement read.
Mangini said she has worked at the family's business for 80 of her 90 years, but there is not a member of the fourth generation of the Carbone family who wants to take on the time-consuming task of operating a restaurant. She is known for going around the restaurant and greeting and chatting with the customers, treating them like family.
"We really don't have a family member in line for succession. It's not a job you can feign interest in. You have to love this life," said Vincent Mangini, a private equity investor and president of Carbone's Inc.
Unspecified health issues also played a role in the decision to sell the property, which has been under consideration for a few months, Mangini said.
His sister, Natalie Stefanick, works 60 to 70 hours a week managing the day-to-day operations of the restaurant, Mangini said. The 10 great-grandchildren of the founders are engineers and artists, but none are interested in taking over the job from Stefanick, who has worked there some 40 years, Mangini said.
Building sold to competitor
Carbone's has sold the 15,000-square-foot building and the 1.2-acre parcel on which it sits to the DeFabo family, which operates Rizzo's Malabar Inn — the other landmark Italian restaurant in Crabtree.
Mangini declined to reveal the sale price and the sale has not been filed with the Westmoreland County Recorder of Deeds.
"Not too many people are looking for 15,000 square feet (building size) in Crabtree," Magini remarked with a smile.
While they are selling the building to DeFabo, Mangini said the family will retain the liquor license, the business name and the recipes.
He did not reveal any future plans for using the family name for business purposes.
Rezero "Rizzi" DeFabo, who operates the Rizzo's Malabar Inn, said their plans for the building are "indefinite."
DeFabo cited family as the reason two Italian restaurants were able to thrive in Crabtree, which sits along Route 119 near the boundaries of Hempfield, Salem and Unity townships. Back when it was known as a coal mining village in the 1930s, it was a hub for Italian and Polish families, DeFabo said.
"Each restaurant operated as family-oriented. Both started out as mom-and-pop restaurants. There was no rivalry between the establishments," said DeFabo, whose grandfather opened the business in 1935.
"There's tremendous respect," between the two families, DeFabo said.
Situated along Route 119, the main highway between Greensburg and New Alexandria, DeFabo joked that there were only three reasons to come to Crabtree or stop there — the two restaurants, and the upcoming Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Festival, featuring a fair and fireworks, which runs from July 19 to 22 this year.
At St. Bartholomew Parish, a stone's throw from Carbone's, parishioners were saddened to hear the news of Carbone's impending closing.
"That's the end of an era. It's been a Crabtree establishment," for decades, said the Rev. Justin Matro, the priest at St. Bartholomew.
Renowned all over
So popular was Carbone's that Matro said when he lived in northern New Jersey with his family in the late 1970s and would mention he was from the Pittsburgh area, others there from Pittsburgh would ask him about Carbone's.
Not only is Carbone's a huge part of the community, Matro said, but one of the links to the days when "coal mines were thriving" around Crabtree.
Crabtree resident Bill Lechman said he was shocked to hear the news of the landmark restaurant's closing.
Years ago, when you mentioned Crabtree to someone, "they'd say Carbone's."
His wife, Kathy Lechman, a Crabtree native, recalled the days when the restaurant "was so packed, you could not move."
Pittsburgh celebrities like KDKA-TV anchor Bill Burns would talk about Carbone's, she said.
Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, whose wife, Sue, is from Latrobe, would have the team stop for a meal en route to playing Pitt in Pittsburgh, Mangini recalled. The restaurant also hosted a dinner in 1974 featuring 1973 Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti, with Paterno as the speaker. Legendary Pittsburgh Pirates announcer Bob Prince also would stop by for a meal, he said.
'A family place'
Joann Grace, of nearby Bovard, said she liked going to Carbone's because "it was a family place."
It was her mother's desire to have a "family place" that they operated a restaurant rather than what was then referred to as a "beer garden," Natalie Carbone Mangini said.
Her father's barbershop business was slow during the Depression, so he wanted to acquire a liquor license so the miners would have a place to quench their thirst. Her father twice got the liquor license, only to have her mother reject the move because in those days, beer gardens were not serving meals.
"My mother did not want to raise a family in a beer garden," so her father opened the restaurant, Mangini said.
"We all helped, working in the business," Natalie Mangini said of her sister, Rosalie, and brother, Nat "Buzz" Carbone."
In addition to the family, the restaurant has employed about 2,000 people over the years, some of whom worked for them for more than 50 years.
Over 2 million served?
By use of a computer installed in 1974 and making projections of business from the early decades, Mangini said they believe they have served more than 2 million customers.
Natalie Mangini said Carbone's has "served enough pasta to circle the globe" in the past 80 years.
Carbone's was able to beat the odds for surviving as a family-owned business into the third generation. Just 12 percent of family businesses are viable into the third generation, according to the Family Business Alliance at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre and Penn State Scranton.
DeFabo, the third generation of his family to operate Rizzo's, said he has a niece and nephew who are working in the business — the family's fourth generation.
Only 3 percent of all family businesses make it into the fourth generation, the Family Business Alliance stated.
As he knows all too well, running a restaurant can be grueling.
"It's your life," DeFabo said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or email@example.com.