“Food is always drama,” Seline Dell’Orto, proprietor of Manganaro’s Grosseria Italiana was explaining to The Observer on Monday afternoon.
It had been a tough week for the storied Hell’s Kitchen grocery, which has occupied the same stretch of Ninth Avenue since 1893. The trouble began when The Wall Street Journal reported that Sal Dell’Orto, Seline’s father, had put the building on the market. The headline, “Eatery Closes After Decades-Long Family Spat,” seemed a mite premature.
“We’re not closing!” Ms. Dell’Orto barked. “No one said that to that idiot reporter!”
A spokesperson from the Wall Street Journal responded: “While not the best [headline] we’ve ever written, it’s meant to convey the process of closing rather than the moment of closure.” Capisce?
As to the family dispute, the long-running saga pits Sal Dell’Orto against his brother James, who owns a competing sandwich shop, Manganaro’s Hero-Boy, right next door. The branches of the family are not on speaking terms.
The ongoing battle has taken its toll on Ms. Dell’Orto, who has developed a reputation for ill-tempered service. “That’s one of my biggest regrets, being angry all the time,” she said. “People call me all sorts of names. If you went on Yelp, you’d have a heart attack.”
As she spoke, her eyes welled with tears.
“I alienated a lot of people,” she continued, “I’ve said mean things. I’m not an angel, but I’m better than that. That’s why I’m crying. I can’t tell you how many nights I didn’t sleep over something I said to someone.”
Asked whether she worries that her relatives next door are gloating over the Grosseria’s misfortune, Ms. Dell’Orto, who’s been reading up on the Borgias lately, replied, “It’s in the genes! Italians all have the jealousy and gloating and ‘I’m gonna fuck you’ gene. What are you?”
“Jewish,” we said.
“Oh, so you know.”
Ms. Dell’Orto is ambivalent about the idea of closing the shop. On one hand she said, “People don’t want this food. They don’t. They want pan-Asian fusion food.”
Then again, she’s not ready to quit just yet. “Why not? Because it’s a hundred and twenty fucking years old and it’s beautiful,” she said, gesturing toward the ancient shelves stacked with cans of roasted peppers.
So for now, Ms. Dell’Orto made it clear, Manganaro’s Grosseria is open for business.
After her experience with the Wall Street Journal, however, she has had it with newspapers. She’ll stick with radio, thanks. “I listen to both sides, give ‘em both the finger and move on.”