Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Northern New Jersey has no shortage of Italian restaurants ranging from fine dining to the local pizza place, but it also has a good number of restaurants with mobster-themed names.
An article at northjersey.com reported on Mob Burger and GoodFellas Pizzeria (Wood-Ridge), GoodFellas restaurant (Garfield), Corleone’s Pizzeria (Hasbrouck Heights), Godfather pizza restaurants (Morristown and East Hanover) and Soprano’s pizzerias (New Milford and Totowa). The story even included the multiple Little Caesars chain of pizza restaurants across NJ and in 5000 other North American locations because though their logo features a cartoon version of the Roman emperor, it also recalls the classic 1931 mobster film Little Caesar.
The article's writer asked for an opinion from the Northern New Jersey born and raised poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan. As a poet and professor at Binghamton University, Gillan has written extensively about the Italian-American experience.
Maria has co-edited with her daughter Jennifer Gillan, also a professor, four anthologies focusing on the immigrant experience in America including Italian American Writers on New Jersey: An Anthology of Poetry and Prose.
Maria said that she finds the use of the mob names on restaurants “just so annoying. Other ethnic groups would never take a slur used against them and repeat it and magnify it in this way.”
Gillan lived in Kansas City in the early 1970s, when the first Godfather film was released.
“You wouldn’t believe the prejudiced ideas people in other parts of the country have about Italians. Back then, people said the most insulting things to me and thought nothing of it. I’m a professor. My husband is a professor. Why are you talking to me like I’m a mobster?
Unfortunately, the Godfather movies were brilliant. So was The Sopranos, especially the first season. The mother [Livia, played by the late Nancy Marchand] could have stepped right out of Shakespeare. But [these works] solidified, in the minds of many Americans, that we’re all bums and crooks.”
Gillan's perspective is shared with people like Andre DiMino, communications director of the New Jersey-based Italian-American One Voice Coalition, who feels the problem is that these restaurant names "perpetuate the connection between the Italian identity and the mob. They cement in people’s mind that Italian culture equals criminals and mafiosos.”
Though he supports small businesses, DiMino would prefer owners to realize that the names do continue the modern era connection of Italian Americans and the mob.
Maria Mazziotti Gillan's most recent books are the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow and the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter . Her collection of poems along with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is MariaGillan.com.