T he two brothers are seven years apart. One lives in Boston and one makes his year-round home in Oak Bluffs. They do not take vacations together or talk regularly on the phone. But from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, the Giordano brothers spend their waking hours under the same roof, working the family business established by their grandparents at the foot of Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs: Giordano’s Restaurant.
Interviews by Julia Rappaport
Wilfred (Buster) Giordano Jr.
I was born in Boston and, as children, we grew up in East Boston up until the time I was six years old. Richard wasn’t born yet and we moved to Medford. My grandfather had restaurants in the Boston area. He started out in Lake Winnepesauke for a few years and then came here in 1930 and opened up the restaurant across from the post office. And then in 1943, my dad bought this place from a man named Walter Perkins. In 1944, he opened the clam bar. That was the first clam bar I believe, I don’t know what it was before. I think it had a sign like Laundromat or something on it.
I’ve never been any place else but the Vineyard in June, July and August since the time I was born. It was just, you know, come to the Vineyard and work, the family all together — father, mother, brother. We all had chores to do when we were youngsters, whether it was peeling potatoes or washing the floor, clearing up.
My dad would wait for us outside the school with the station wagon. He would have that station wagon loaded with whatever he had to bring with him that he wouldn’t have to pay freight for. He’d bring potatoes, sacks of potatoes and sacks of onions. He’d pick us up as young ones and throw us into the back of the car and you’d sit on a bag of potatoes and drive to the Vineyard.
In my younger days, in my teens, I was in the clam bar working with my mom. Then, when the dining room got bigger and we got into a liquor license, my dad didn’t want to get involved in liquor. He was in the restaurant business, he knew food, he didn’t know liquor, so I went from the clam bar into the dining room. I was probably 18, 19.
I always enjoyed coming to the Vineyard, even though it was a lot of work. You had the beach, it was a great place to be in the summertime. And it wasn’t like it is today. I mean, today, my children and Richard’s children really put in a tremendous amount of hours. It’s a factory now. You’re pushing a lot of people and a lot of pizzas and a lot of food goes out of here. Back then, it was kind of laid back. You’d open up at four or five in the afternoon and there was no lunch in the kitchen at one time. When there was lunch, we’d open at 11, close at three and open up at five again so we had a two-hour break. There’s no such thing today. It’s just go, go, go. So our children, they have it a little rougher than we did.
The changes started about 1979, 1980. My dad just wanted to get out. My father just one day came up to me and handed me a book and said, “I’m out, I’m done.” At that time, Richard was still doing the pizzas and I was in the dining room.
We got along most of the time as kids. I didn’t get along with him when I had to go someplace and my mom would say, “Take your brother with you,” stuff like that. We’re very fortunate because we do get along very well and the reason is because this is so big. We all have our corners to work in and we don’t have to get in each other’s way. I run the dining room and the kitchen and Richard was always in the pizza room and we were never in each other’s way. We never had to work side by side. And I think that’s part of our success. He does his thing, I have my thing and the whole thing works.
He has a 1956 Chevy station wagon, Nomad, and I have a 1956 Chevy convertible and we do share that hobby together. We both really like our cars. We had a show here one time that he put on with his wife, Nancy, and it was to raise money for the Hospice. We do share that hobby, we do like our cars.
You just follow the pattern, you know. Your parents set the path. It’s my parents that inspired me. My parents worked every day, they didn’t complain, they just did what they did and we just followed that. Richard’s here every day, I’m here every day. On our days off, we’re still here. He checks, I check. There’s always one of us here. When you see that every day and when they decided to leave, you just pick up where they left off and you just keep doing the same thing. We didn’t create anything. The road was already there, we’re just following the road that they set.
His son, Michael, and my son, Carl, are pizza managers and Jason, my youngest son, manages the clam bar. His daughter, Leanne, is the dining room manager. My oldest son, Billy, he comes in in the morning and does all of the cooking and the prepping and when he leaves to go home, I come in and cook at night. I see my kids every day, it’s wonderful. I mean, sometimes, they don’t like me every day and sometimes they’re a little tired or a little grouchy because, you know, we push them. But, that’s old school, that’s where we come from. You just work and when it’s done, you’re rewarded.
It’s not only that me and my brother get along, everybody gets along. My three sons get along so well with his son and his daughter that you can see this business going on for another generation. It’s like what I said before, you teach by example. If I followed my father’s footsteps and my brother followed my father’s footsteps and we do what they taught us and my children and his children do what they learned from us, my brother and myself, this business will go on again, just keep going. That’s what I hope.
Richard (Richie) Giordano
My earliest memory in the restaurant was probably folding pizza boxes. We all folded pizza boxes. At a young age, my dad wanted me to learn how to make pizzas. I was 14 years old when I started making pizzas. There was a fellow that my dad hired to make pizzas, his name was Luigi. The rest is history. I’ve never left the pizza room, basically. At one time, we’d only be open in the evenings. So, during the daytime, I’d be practicing on a bench, banging out the dough and watching Luigi make pizzas. He’d be like, “Get me cheese! Get sauce! I need this here! Get the dough balls!” I was like an apprentice, running around like a nut. You can learn by watching. It’s just something I’ve always done and something I enjoy doing. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it, I think we make a great pizza. I get a lot of personal satisfaction with putting out a good product.
Back then, when my folks were alive, it was kind of neat because there was that family environment. My mother’d be in the clam bar and my dad would always be cooking up something special for dinner. Everything today now is so fast. The environment has changed somewhat. Back then, it seemed a little bit more homey than it is today. You try to keep that trend up, but you’re so busy, it’s hard. Back then, when we were younger, growing up, we had more time to sit down and talk a little bit and have a family meal, like on Sundays. We would only open during the evening, so we could sit down and have a family dinner. Now, we’re open 11 to 11, so it’s like a crazy place.
In 1970, where the pizza room is now, there was a yard that went all the way to the kitchen. And, in back, there were a couple of picnic benches. Then in 1970, 1971, we all came down here, the whole family, and we did this renovation. We put the building up, the pizza room, which is now in the middle. And from that time on, I never left the Vineyard. I just fell in love with it. I just really liked the atmosphere and of course, I met my wife down here. And the rest is history, I had my two children, they both graduated Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
My father retired in 1980, I think. I was around 28 and Buster and I took it over. My father knew. He had that instinct that we were ready to take it over. He was 80 years old when he retired. You’re always nervous when you’re going into a business because, in the back of your mind, you want to do things the right way. Hopefully, you can carry this on and you can continue in the right direction that your father was in, that your grandparents were in. That was always in the back of my head. I think we’ve done a pretty good job. I always wanted to do the right thing. I’m sure Buster wanted to do the right thing.
Having a brother at your side, it’s like having a dad at your side. If you have a question, or something you’re not sure about, who would you run to? Back then, even when our dad had retired, sure, if we had a question, we could always ask him. He was just up the street and he’d be more than happy to guide you. But if you have an older brother, you can talk and say, “Hey, what do you think of this or that?” You know, we have our trying times. It’s not always a beautiful picture. There are a lot of things we don’t agree on. Major things, we just talk it out. We throw our opinions on the table. We talk it through. You have to if you want to stay together. If you want to keep this institution going, you have to talk it through. I think the saving grace of everything is that it’s a seasonal business. And because of this building being set up physically in three departments here. Buster has his section, I have my section, the kids are all scattered around. So, its not like we’re side by side working. You know, we’re working with each other, but not next to each other.
I don’t look at working with him as a challenge. You come here in the summer, you’re here for five months. It’s actually a short season. I look at it, let’s get in here and let’s get the job done and let’s go home. And that’s it. If I stopped and I criticized him and he had to criticize me, we’d spend all our time bitching. Let’s get in here, get the job done the best we can and take a break, go on vacation. So many people spend so much time just criticizing one another. To be honest, I don’t have the energy to go through all of that and I’m sure he doesn’t either.
I’m proud that what my grandparents did and my parents did — I’m proud that I can walk into it. It is kind of emotional because you feel like you’re taking something over that your grandparents started. You just can’t go out and buy that. This is something that was embedded in us. So you do come in in the morning and you think, “What’s wrong? What’s going on here?” Then you think, well, it’s something that was made by your grandparents. What they went through back in those hard times, in the thirties, to put something like this together, that’s saying something. They gave up a lot. And I feel good knowing that we’ve done a pretty good job. It makes me feel good, carrying this baton hopefully to the next generation. You know you’re working every day, you’re working hard, so what do you say? Wow, look at how many pizzas I made? No, it’s a tradition that you’re carrying.
I think, fortunately, it worked out with two of us. It’s a big area to cover. Could you picture one person running this whole thing? Sure it could be done — more managers, you’d have to hire more personnel to watch your business for you. But now, there’s two owners, two sets of eyes covering each end. So I think it’s pretty beneficial. We both have the same goal in mind — to make this business very successful. And, the bottom line is everybody’s happy. So I think in that respect, with two, it worked out well.