Family Ties

It hasn’t always been easy, but Pellegrine’s Lounge has survived.

The local establishment, founded Jan. 6, 1964, by brothers Harry Sr. and Steve Pellegrine, is marking 50 years in business this year.

“We just plug along and do what we can do. It is harder with more restaurants opening; it is like a corner store versus Wal-mart,” said Robin Pellegrine, who along with husband, Harry Jr., runs the business today.

Harry Sr. and Steve purchased Anthony’s Cafe, 1330 Pleasant Valley Blvd., from Anthony Fanelli.

Harry owned Pelly’s Amoco at Eighth Avenue and 17th Street, and Steve was making signs while in business as Pellegrine Signs.

“It was a real challenge even to try and buy the place. You had two young guys. I was 24, and Harry was 26. Trying to get financing was tremendously difficult,” Steve Pellegrine said.

Their father, Humberto, came to their aid.

“My father had no other way to help us. He mortgaged his house, and that is what enabled us to buy the bar. The risk that he took kept us working hard to make sure we didn’t jeopardize his savings,” Steve Pellegrine said.

Aunt Connie Siccola, who owned Hi Way Pizza, also lent a helping hand.

“When we were ready to open, we didn’t have any money to put in the cash register. We had no startup money. She gave us the change to put in the cash register,” Steve Pellegrine said.

The night before they opened, the brothers realized they weren’t very well prepared.

“We didn’t know how to pour a shot of liquor,” Steve Pellegrine said. “Harry could pump gas, but he couldn’t pour liquor.”

The brothers realized it would be difficult for the business to support two families so Steve left the business after five years.

Harry Sr. ran the business until 1993 when Harry Jr. and Robin took over the operations.

“He [Harry Sr.] did everything in this place,” Harry Jr. said.

Times have changed since the early days of the business.

“There was no competition back then. It was always packed. There were all local-owned bars. There were no chain restaurants. That has caused a lot of problems for us,” Robin said. “National restaurants have come in from all over. Corporations have money to back them. Back then, most everything was local and family owned.”

Serving quality food has been a big reason Pellegrine’s has remained in business for 50 years.

“We specialize in pizza, wings and original Italian hoagies. We sell tons of pizza, cheese steaks, burgers and soups, lasagna. We sell a lot of steak and chicken salads,” Robin said.

Harry Jr. does most of the cooking and makes everything from scratch.

“I make homemade gnocchi, pizza, meatballs and strombolis. The pizza sauce was my grandmother’s recipe from Italy. The spaghetti sauce is also hers, but I tweaked it a little bit. They are now my recipes,” Harry Jr. said. “They call me the Soup Nazi; everybody loves my soups. I make the noodles from scratch. They don’t come out of a can or bag.”

“I would put his food up against anybody in town,” Robin said.

Friday fish dinners were a big part of the business for years, but churches have taken them over, Robin said.

The fish dinners were successful because the entire family helped with them, Steve said.

To survive in today’s world, Pellegrine’s has placed more emphasis on music and entertainment.

“We now focus on live music. I spend hours booking bands. People come out for the entertainment. Years ago we were known for Sunday nights out at Pelly’s. There was a live band. Now we have entertainment Wednesday nights with a jam night and live bands Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Robin said.

“We try anything we can, offer variety and try new things,” she said. “You have to go with the music that the kids like; you have to stay current with the music for the 20s crowd.”

Today the restaurant is run by family members and some close friends.

Harry Jr. and Jennifer Chang Carothers, Robin Pellegrine’s sister-in-law, spend the most time at the business. Harry Jr.’s sisters, Shari Grassi and Natalie Pellegrine-Stultz, also have lent a helping hand.

Robin’s parents, John and Bonnie Carothers, also have contributed over the years. And some special employees also have been a big help.

“Maggie [Shoemaker] was the original, then Snookie [Gladys McConnell] and Goldie [Weigand]. I credit them for some of our success. They were people who stayed with us and helped make the business,” Steve said. “We got through it because our family was there.”

Family members are proud the business have made it to 50 years.

“We [Steve and wife, Theresa] are glad they are still in business. It is tough today. There is a tremendous amount of competition out there. It is an accomplishment they have kept it running,” Steve said. “We worked very hard; it was tough to get through financially. It was a lot of work, and it wasn’t always fun.”

“It is a great accomplishment,” Robin said. “I am optimistic about the future. I spend a lot of time thinking of new things to do.”