This is part of a series about Hoboken that runs twice a month in the Current and the Hoboken Reporter. It features long-established family owned and operated businesses that add to the charm of our fair city.
Leo’s Grandevous on the corner of Second and Grand streets is a landmark for Hoboken residents and visitors alike. Many generations of families have frequented this Italian restaurant and bar since it was opened in 1939 by Leo and Tessie DiTerlizzi. Known for home cooked meals and a large collection of Frank Sinatra memorabilia, first time customers often become regulars.
The early years
When Leo and Tessie DiTerlizzi first opened the place, Leo’s consisted only of the front area bar room. According to Sergio DeNichilo (grandnephew to Leo & Tessie), Tessie initially cooked the dinners from upstairs.
She cooked traditional Italian meals that were taught to her from Italian relatives. Gradually, they expanded and added rooms and a kitchen over the years.
Standing by the front bar, you can see the separations that mark the additional rooms.
DeNichilo said that Leo worked everyday. In the morning he made the sauce, and at night he worked the bar. “Leo was completely dedicated to this business. It was everything to him,” said DeNichilo. “He would rather spend the evening at the bar with customers because they were his extended family.”
According to DeNichilo, Tessie was a typical, strong Italian mother to all. “She worked everyday while raising her family,” said DeNichilo. “Back then the woman’s role was family first and business second. That was their way of life.”
Ol’ Blue Eyes
Leo’s Grandevous has one of the largest collections of Frank Sinatra material in town. Spanning the walls are pictures and posters of Frank through the years and above the bar rests an honorary stool for the “Chairman of the Board.”
In addition to the prints, Leo’s Grandevous has one of the largest selections of Sinatra’s music on their jukebox. According to DeNichilo, Sinatra was just becoming well known when Leo began to collect items about the crooner. Leo’s connection to the singer became that of an awed fan. Over the years patrons donated their own pictures to the bar.
“They donated it because of their love for Leo and Sinatra,” said DeNichilo.
Although the menu has expanded from the 20 items that were originally available, certain staples have not. According to DeNichilo, the sauces are still prepared the same way and all of the menu items are prepared fresh daily.
Other items that have not changed are the crispy bar pies, the mussels, and the stuffed calamari. Special attention is always given to the preparation of veal because it was Leo’s favorite dish.
The “Friday Specials” that are on the menu today are the same as they always were.
Some of that fine selection includes: Filet of Sole, eggplant parmigiana, and a filet sandwich. According to DeNichilo, people from all over the world come to Leo’s. “We are listed in guide books as a place to see,” said DeNichilo.
The couple worked hard to ensure the success of their place and ran the place until the couple died in 2001 only months apart. “Tessie became sick in February, and Leo died of a broken heart in July,” said DeNichilo.
Cousins Sergio DeNichilo and Nicholas DePalma (grandson of Leo & Tessie) have continued to run Leo’s in the traditional way. As a testimonial to fabulous couple, the menu is still signed by Leo and Tessie DiTerlizzi. Both DeNichilo and Palma are always present in the restaurant and they still welcome kids as it is a family restaurant.
“We’ve continued the traditions that Leo and Tessie instilled in us,” said DeNichilo.
According to DeNichilo, everyone has their favorite story about Leo. Recently, an older man who frequents the restaurant shared his with DeNichilo.
He told DeNichilo that when he was a young man, he came in for lunch when he was working as a day laborer and was very broke. Leo asked him what he wanted for lunch, and the young man responded that he didn’t have any money. Leo told him, “I didn’t ask you if you had money, I asked what you wanted for lunch.” He told DeNichilo, “I will never forget the way your grandfather treated me.”
“That’s how [Leo] built our business,” said DeNichilo, “one customer at a time.”
Although Leo’s Grandevous has been renovated and updated slightly, the half moon-shaped bar has not. The bar was never straightened because the curve invites conversation.
A new idea that customers think is long overdue is Leo’s line of traditional sauces and oils that are bottled for take-out.
According to DeNichilo, they began selling them because they are so popular. But they still won’t give away the secret to their flavorful sauces – not unless you’re family!
“Leo’s will always remain in the family and will always be family,” said DeNichilo. “It’s a place where past, present, and future collide.”
Leo’s Grandevous is located at 200 Grand St. in Hoboken. For more information, visit: www.leosgrandevous.com or call (201) 659-9467.