By Tom Verso
Between 1880 and 1920, millions of Southern Italians came to America – tens of thousands to Rochester. Italy’s loss was America’s gain. For example, one of those immigrants was an extraordinary man named John A. Roncone. Born in 1957, in the town of Pignataro Maggiore (Campania region; Caserta Province), at the age of 27 (1882) he came to Rochester.
Starting as a day laborer, he eventually became a contractor. By 1910, he was operating a grocery store on State Street near the corner of Brown Street. He and his wife Carmela lived around the corner on Frankfort St. In 1915, he moved the store to 515 State and live next door at 513, between Jake and Smith. He became an importer of olive oil, well, sold money orders and became a Commissioner of Deeds. In 1920, he was listed in the city directory as a “banker” associated with P.Nacga& Co. at 422 State. St.
He helped bring several hundred of his former Pignataro Maggiore neighbors to Rochester. He organized annual picnics like the St. George’s Day celebration that was popular in southern Italy. Attendance grew in size until the number exceeded 2000 people at at 1915 event.
John Roncone was not the only Roncone to leave Italy and become successful businessman of Rochester’s Westside. Pietro Roncone was born in Italy in 1883. He came to Rochester in his late teens and worked as a ‘presser’ in various closing factories. In 1918 he opened a barbershop on State Street, a few doors down from John Roncone’s store. He and his wife Emma lived at 193 Jones Park off Lyell Avenue. In 1922 he organized the Federation of Italian Societies of Rochester that would meet at the Parrrinello Hall at the corner of Smith St. and Saratoga Ave. From 1924 to 1937 he operated the Roncone and Cutali furniture store at 485 State Street. In 1937, could purchase the restaurant on Lyell at the corner of Parkway. The restaurant is no longer in the Roncone family, but it still bears the Roncone name and search traditional Italian food.
There is no limit to the stories that can be told about successful Italian-Americans like John and Pietro Roncone, and there is an important lesson to be drawn from these stories. It cannot be emphasized enough that today we live in the suburbs, but our roots are in the city. Those who want to know the history of Italian Americans and pass it on to their children have to know and understand what it was like to live in American cities like Rochester in the decades before 1950. If you don’t read about the city and VISIT the city, you cannot know our history and culture. Roncone’s restaurant, Parrrinello Hall and buildings on State Street between Smith and Jay are still standing.
~~~~ A NOTE From Joe Fantauzzo, The Owner
One of the reasons I love coming to work every day is the stories I get to hear from our patrons, many of whom are Italian Americans. It fills me with pride, joy and appreciation of the contributions our ancestors made to Rochester, as well as their children and grandchildren. Come to Roncone’s, enjoy the great Italian food and share your stories!