Patty Boy’s earliest memories of Piccolo’s: “At 4 or 5, I was a hockey fanatic. We had sawdust on the floor then, and I set up a milk crate. My father bought me a hockey stick and cut it down to my size at the butcher shop. I would play hockey while he was working.”
Within a few years, Colette, Cathy, and Patty Boy were lending a hand at Piccolo’s. “I couldn’t wait to get here after grammar school, to help my father clean up,” Patty recalls.
In the late 1960s, during the era of riots and civil unrest, Joseph began to rethink his business plan. “I was getting older, and I just couldn’t take those four-rounders anymore [‘sparring’ with unruly customers],” he says. “Night business is a tough business.”
So it was decided to switch to a lunch-only operation, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. At first, Joseph was concerned about the impact the change might have, but Piccolo’s quickly drew a new Monday-to-Friday clientele from Hoboken’s industries: dockworkers, Maxwell House plant staff, etc. A pattern was established that still continues: workers on weekdays (now with more white-collar professionals mixed in), and families on Saturdays.
“My parents were very big on education,” Patty states. His older sister is Dr. Colette Spaccavento, a top hematologist in New York City. Their sister Cathy handles the finances for Dr. Spaccavento.
As for Patty Boy, Joseph wasn’t eager for him to follow into the family business. However, the lure was too strong.
“I went a year and a half to Seton Hall University, but this was what I wanted to do,” Patty says. “And finally my father gave in.”
They’ve worked hand-in-hand ever since. Beginning in the early 1980s, Piccolo’s started opening at 8 a.m. to offer a simple breakfast: ham and eggs, bacon and eggs, coffee.
In 1988, the restaurant expanded, adding a back room—and a lot of unexpected publicity, tied to that room’s décor. “My mother and father were fans of Frank Sinatra,” Patty Boy explains. “It was just their little tribute to him and his family, being from Hoboken and being successful. They thought it might be a nice touch to the place.”
The backroom “shrine,” in addition to a steady playlist of Ol’ Blue Eyes tunes, eventually garnered much media attention. Things reached a head on May 14, 1998.
“I’ll never forget the day that he passed away,” Patty recalls. “This place, you could not get in. It was wall-to-wall media, wall-to-wall customers. I was throwing the media out because I wanted to take care of my customers, my people.”
Due to both the Sinatra connection and the restaurant’s long-lasting success, Piccolo’s has been profiled everywhere, including The New York Times, PBS, the BBC, and CBS-2 New York.
It’s all gratifying to Patleo Spaccavento and his crew (including loyal Luis, behind the counter since 1993). But what truly matters to Patty is his own family—wife Myra and daughter Angelina—and satisfying Piccolo’s customers, whether they’re third-generation regulars or it’s their first time through the door. “I just want them to say, ‘Man, what a great time we had, the food was good, the laughter, the warmth,’” Patty explains. “My mother and father started this business. I’ve never done anything except try to further it. When I see a smile on people’s faces, I know I’m doing the right thing.”