The legendary 70-year-old flagship location of Biggie’s Clam Bar at 318 Madison St. in Hoboken will close permanently by Oct. 3. The owners will move their operations to their newer Newark Street location.
For decades, the family-owned and operated Madison Street shop has served up sandwiches, salads, soups, and seafood.
The decision to close the original location was a long time in the making, according to Steven and Michael Ranuro, brothers who have been in the family business for years. This is mostly due to a shift in concept and the evolution of the business, according to Michael.
“The business has evolved just like people change and evolve,” said Michael. “The concept changed. We opened up Carlstadt in 2010 and it was full menu, full service, and it worked…this building is 120 years old and it’s been through Hurricane Irene, and Sandy. We knew the day was going to come eventually, so we opened a place on Newark Street.”
The owners also cited parking difficulties at the Madison Street location, particularly since a bike lane was put in.
Hoboken was a blue collar waterfront town in the 1940s when Joseph Yaccarino, “Joe Biggie,” an immigrant from Naples, went corner to corner shucking raw clams from pails to patrons.
Eventually he operated a pushcart, selling clams on the half shell for a nickel a piece. Biggie recruited his son Michael Yaccarino into the business, and in 1946 father and son opened Biggie’s Clam Bar at 318 Madison St.
In April 2010, Biggie’s began expanding when it made its Bergen County debut with a second location on Route 17 in Carlstadt. In October of 2011, Biggie’s opened another location in Kingsport, Tenn., and in April of the following year, Biggie’s opened its second Hoboken location at the former site of the Clam Broth House, 36-42 Newark St.
In October of 2013, Biggie’s opened its most recent location on Route 17 in Ramsey.
“I started working for my father when I was 15,” said Michael Yaccarino last week. “In baseball you’ve got ball boys, and the bat boy, and I was the pail boy for my father.”
The Tennessee location is owned by relatives there.
The Ranuros are Michael Yaccarino’s grandsons.
Michael Ranuro added that they wanted to make sure the Newark Street location was doing well and customers enjoyed it before making the merge.
“This is a move that’s right for the town, for its people.” – Michael Yaccarino
“We don’t want to forget where we came from,” Michael said. “Is it going to be different and sad that a place closes? Yes, but we are hoping that it’s a positive.”
“We are not closing; we are just moving,” said Steven. “We have a very dedicated client base here who have been coming here for a very long time, and I don’t want them to feel that we are closing up shop and forgetting where we came from. That’s not the case at all.”
“This is a move that’s right for the town, for its people,” said Michael Yaccarino, who opened the original Biggie’s with his father. “You can go and get a martini or go to an event in the party room… and I’ll be there, shucking clams and greeting people.”
Residents and fans of the restaurant will still be able to get their favorite foods and will be introduced to new menu items not currently found on Madison Street, including pasta dishes, thin crust pizzas, and seafood from the raw bar.
The brothers are trying to make the transition as smooth as possible for their customers.
“We are going to move the phone lines and the fax lines uptown, so if you call Biggie’s, you’ll still get an answer,” said Steven.
The family says they do not plan to expand to more locations in the near future.
“We are focusing on building out other pieces of the business,” said Michael. “We will be focusing on our catering and event space next before we think about expanding.”
According to Steven, the 70th anniversary for the business will be celebrated in September, which is why the location won’t close until October.
The brothers said they are working on finalizing special anniversary plans.
The Madison Street location is a small red brick building with two outdoor picnic tables and a several tables inside. Family photos hang on the white walls. In back is an open kitchen where patrons can order and pick up food.
“We mostly handle deliveries here now,” said Steven. “Parking is near impossible now.”
Briefly double parking is no longer an option as the street’s bike lane prevents it.
The Newark Street location has booths, high-top tables, a full bar with 22 beers on tap, a raw bar, a more extensive menu, and a private event space.
They also offer several specials, including happy hour and half price raw bar on Tuesdays.
According to Michael, both locations are places where families can go and enjoy an inexpensive high quality meal with exceptional service.
The Ranuros said they don’t know yet what they will do with the Madison Street building.
Michael Ranuro pulled a picture off the wall of Biggie’s original location and pointed at a young boy in the image.
“That’s me, here, behind the counter, when I was probably 10 years old,” said Michael. “It’s a type of place where a father takes his son, and he takes his son. It’s generational and we make sure that this continues out our other places.”
Michael said, “Simple things like welcoming people, being sure to serve fresh and quality seafood, looking into somebody’s eye and shaking their hand — we want to get across that those aren’t just Madison Street values. Those are Biggie’s values.”
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org