Bensonhurst mourns the loss of Grandma (Vita) Maniscalco of Vic’s Pizzeria (288 Kings Highway), a neighborhood staple.
Vita and her husband Vic emigrated to New York City from Sciacca, Sicily with their two daughters in 1959, and moved into an apartment building on Elizabeth Street, in Manhattan’s Little Italy. The young couple came to the U.S. “in hope of a better life for their children. They left everything they knew,” granddaughter Victoria Maniscalco told us.
Vita passed away on September 2nd. Her husband Vic died last year.
Teaching themselves English, Vita initially worked as a seamstress in a factory, while Vic found jobs in the restaurant industry.
“Soon they wanted to have a place to call their own,” granddaughter Victoria said.
After carefully saving, they found a storefront for sale in Brooklyn and opened Vic’s Pizzeria in 1962. That same year, their son Pasquale (Pat), who manages the family business to this day, was born.
Transporting their children back and forth from Manhattan to Brooklyn (and sometimes leaving the kids with nuns as babysitters), Vita and Vic strove to ensure a bright future for their family.
Vic’s is located on West 7th Street and Kings Highway — a high-traffic area. “When the store opened it was originally an Italian, Greek, and Jewish community,” Victoria told us.
Together, Vita and Vic worked hard to immerse themselves in American culture and foster a sense of community.
“Now many cultures [mostly Russian and Chinese] enjoy Vic’s Pizzeria,” Victoria said. “[And] original customers would return to have a homemade style meal from Grandma Vita.”
The family loved the pizzeria and treated it like an extension of their homes — so much so that even Sunday dinners would occasionally happen there. Neighbors would frequent the pizzeria like it was a second home.
“It was where she raised her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and shared her passion,” granddaughter Victoria said. “Even at 79, she was working at the restaurant with the same determination and enthusiasm as she always had.”
Tradition was the key for the Maniscalcos — both Pasquale and his sister Dina grew up working in the business. Pasquale took over the pizzeria when he was 30, giving him the responsibility to handle the business and administrative side of things. He was the pizza man, while Vita and Vic were a team in the kitchen.
“My grandfather butchered the meat, prepared eggplant and chicken, and made the sauce and meatballs, while my Grandma Vita created wonderful dishes using the ingredients my grandfather prepared,” Victoria said.
Dina also continues to work in the family business, answering phones, packing orders, and helping with customer service.
Although both Vita and Vic have passed on, their legacy of hard work and a warm welcome lives on through their family, community, and food. The name Vita means “life,” and this is a gift she gave the world — the gift of herself.
“[Last Thursday], my father reopened the store for the first day without my grandmother,” Victoria said. “With the help of my aunt, [he] will try to keep the “Vita” in Vic’s and run the pizzeria as she would want it — through serving food as if it were for family.”
The community mourns the loss, but still enjoys the food at Vic’s.