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Jul 7, 2010 12:24 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Celestino Gambino, founder of La Parmigiana, dies at 73

Jul 7, 2010 12:24 PM

Celestino Gambino had an all-glass addition built onto his Southampton Village home to accommodate a large marble table, commercial ovens and a wood-burning stove.

He always sat at the head of the table, and his family—including his wife, Josephine, and their seven children and 19 grandchildren—surrounded him every Monday afternoon for dinner, explained Sabrina Manglaviti, one of his granddaughters.

Instead of enjoying a traditional Italian Sunday dinner, the Gambinos got together on Monday because it was their only day off from running La Parmigiana, the popular Italian restaurant on Hampton Road in Southampton that Mr. Gambino owned and operated for 36 years, Ms. Manglaviti said.

“It was a huge part of growing up,” Ms. Manglaviti, who currently works at the restaurant, said of her family’s Monday afternoon tradition. “It made me and my cousins so much closer.”

Mr. Gambino, who opened La Parmigiana in 1974, died last Thursday evening. He was 73.

Ms. Manglaviti’s “Nonno,” as she calls Mr. Gambino, started the restaurant after working for two years at Baby Moon restaurant in Westhampton Beach for his brothers, Peter and John Gambino. When La Parmigiana first opened, Mr. Gambino offered only spaghetti and meatballs and pizza, but his menu and business expanded as people began to appreciate his food and him as a person, she said.

“It’s hard to remember Southampton without your grandfather,” Anne Marie Clark told Ms. Manglaviti at Mr. Gambino’s wake, which was held at O’Connell Funeral Home on Little Plains Road in Southampton Village earlier this week.

Ms. Clark and her husband, Harold, have been regulars at the Italian restaurant for years. “We buy the olive oil religiously,” Ms. Clark said.

Her husband explained that the oil is very sweet and fresh tasting, and that they’re happy to buy it because it supports a local business and family.

Ms. Manglaviti said Mr. Gambino was one of the most selfless men she had ever met. The few times he went back to his native Sicily after immigrating to Long Island in 1972, Mr. Gambino would always return with gifts for his entire family, Ms. Manglaviti said. The gifts were nothing too extravagant—usually fine Italian belts, delicious Sicilian sweets, and other treasures from his native country, she said.

Rodolfo Gambino, one of Mr. Gambino’s two sons, who is also known as Rudy, echoed his niece’s sentiments, stating that his father’s last priority was himself. In fact, he said, the only thing his father ever wanted was tobacco for his pipe. Mr. Gambino was often seen by passersby sitting on a bench outside his restaurant, wearing a cap and smoking his pipe.

Mr. Gambino helped many East Enders, but never sought praise for his work, his son said.

“He didn’t want attention drawn to him,” said Mr. Gambino’s other son, Francesco Gambino. “It’s like in the Bible—do not let the left hand know what the right is doing.”

Rodolfo Gambino noted that his father made Sunday dinner for the priests at his parish—Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Roman Catholic Church in Southampton— for 35 years.

“He did it out of love,” Francesco Gambino said. “He did not want to be praised.”

Rodolfo Gambino shared another anecdote that he said demonstrates his father’s selflessness and humility: Following a Father’s Day sermon that touched upon Celestino Gambino’s good deeds, a parishioner approached the restaurateur and praised him. The late Mr. Gambino stated that what he did was nothing extraordinary, his son recalled. Rodolfo Gambino said he often had to explain to his father that times were different, and many people today are not as willing to help others.

“They don’t make them like that anymore,” Mr. Gambino said of his father.

The late Mr. Gambino had strong ties to the Roman Catholic Church and wanted to become a priest when he was growing up in Villa Maria, a small village near Palermo. Though he was too poor to afford the seminary, he maintained his faith by going to church every Sunday, Ms. Manglaviti said.

To better his life, he uprooted his wife and seven children and moved to Southampton, Ms. Manglaviti said. It was a risk, but it was wildly successfully at the end, she said.

La Parmigiana’s success hinged, in large part, on Mr. Gambino’s attention to detail, Ms. Manglaviti said. Two points of particular importance to him were the flowers on his restaurant’s tables—no fake ones were ever allowed—and the quality of the extra virgin olive oil he used in his dishes, she said. The oil must be first press, meaning that it is made when the fruit is pressed for the first time.

Ms. Manglaviti said that while the chair at the head of the big marble table in her late grandfather’s home will remain empty on Mondays, her Nonno’s tradition will live on.

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Best Italian food on the East End!
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Jul 2, 10 10:38 AM
...and better people!!!
By oooohhhhhh (6), hampton bays on Jul 2, 10 12:22 PM
A truly wonderful man. His kindness has showered this community in so many ways. May he rest in peace, Amen
By powerwalker (52), Southampton on Jul 2, 10 11:38 AM
Wonderful man with a wonderful family. Mr. Gambino will be greatly missed.
By Maxa Luppi (7), Southampton on Jul 2, 10 12:28 PM
A true gentleman who will be missed.

Rest in Peace.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jul 2, 10 1:07 PM
an amazing restaurant...amazing family...rest in peace ....prayers to the Gambino family
By blondie75 (3), hamptons on Jul 2, 10 2:40 PM
Condolences to the family. He will be missed. Great memories from years ago of the place and the people.
By Sag Native (54), East Hampton on Jul 2, 10 3:05 PM
My love and condolences to the family, Pop will be greatly missed.
By WoWHero (4), Southampton on Jul 2, 10 3:40 PM
my heart goes out to friends and family right now, may he rest in piece
By ICARE (23), SOUTHAMPTON on Jul 2, 10 4:37 PM
I think you have the visiting hours wrong. I was advised that they are Monday and Tuesday 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 each day and the funeral is Wednesday at 10. It was always so nice to be greeted by Mr Gambino when ordering or picking up their wonderful Italian food. I'm sure the family will continue the tradition of good, caring service.
By hamptonsnrcit (47), sag harbor on Jul 2, 10 5:33 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By hamptonsnrcit (47), sag harbor on Jul 2, 10 5:34 PM
The funeral home confirms the visitation hours in the post above by hamptonsnrcit.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jul 4, 10 9:10 AM

Your visiting hours are the same as the article I believe, although your post makes it a bit clearer that the same afternoon and evening hours apply both to Monday and Tuesday.

See you there.
Jul 2, 10 5:40 PM appended by PBR
Correction, hamptonsnrcrit's posted visiting hours are indeed different from the article. Editor please advise.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Jul 2, 10 5:40 PM
What a nice man what a great family he made
By bpcooke (12), Southampton on Jul 2, 10 8:55 PM
The other day, I had this craving out of the blue for a LaParm slice.

That is a bonafide fact.

Requiescat in pace, mi amice...
Jul 2, 10 10:29 PM appended by Mr. Z
And it was Thursday, as I was off on Wednesday...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jul 2, 10 10:29 PM
May you rest in peace my friend, you will surely be missed.
By blbandit (21), Southampton on Jul 3, 10 8:05 AM
A good and calm man and we will all remember him well.
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on Jul 3, 10 9:06 AM
It won't be the same without Mr. Gambino overseeing things with his white apron and ever present pipe!! What a sweetheart! He raised a wonderful family. He will be greatly missed. God Bless.
By teeteeme (11), Water Mill on Jul 3, 10 1:07 PM
By setyoufree (69), Sag Harbor on Jul 3, 10 4:09 PM
Rest in Peace. We send our sincerest condolences. How wonderful, you will see your beautiful grand daughter once again.
By bayview (160), Southampton on Jul 3, 10 6:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
One of the finest men I've ever met....and an equally incredible family he created. We will all miss you, Zio.
By briantymann (31), westhampton beach on Jul 5, 10 11:33 AM
1 member liked this comment
Southampton lost one of it's good and generous neighbors. His beautiful family will carry on for him.
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on Jul 5, 10 6:46 PM
To the whole extended family at La Parmigiana, I share deeply in your sadness over the loss of Mr. G.

His exquisitely kind, quiet and strong presence permeated everything at La Parmigiana.... from every sip of velvety espresso he made for me to the love he demonstrated toward his employees and the community, Mr. G's caring nature was felt everywhere.

I can still see him clearly... his elegant stance and graceful cashmere sweaters, his calm demeanor amid crowded chaos, his sincere ...more
By Michelle Morris (1), Telluride on Jul 8, 10 4:37 AM
2 members liked this comment
Rest in peace Poppa LaParm....you will be missed. Know that you have raised a wonderful family w/your wife and they will continue on with the tradition.
By NYLIGIRL (2), southampton on Jul 8, 10 7:17 PM
Although we now live in Maine we lived in Southampton for over 35 years, my husband and I have fond memories of the best pizza we have ever had. La Parm was the place for good Italian food. The Gambino family has our sincere sympathy for their loss. He was a truly good man.
By Mainefriends (14), Bethel Maine on Jul 8, 10 10:06 PM
Who knew angles could cook so well. The Penne Ala Norcina has to be divinely inspired. Mr. G was the essence of calm and caring when you were in his presence be it at church or in La Parm, he was always the same. He made everyone feel like family. I wonder if he ever realized how famous La Parm had become. You can traval near and far and mention the name "La Parm" and people's mouth starts to water as they launch into the description of their favorite meals in great detail. As long as there ...more
By SLCSouth (9), Southampton on Jul 9, 10 1:00 PM