Rick Mangino has worked in restaurants all his life.
His family's acclaimed Italian restaurant, Mangino's Ristorante, has been a Saratoga Lake institution for seven decades.
"I've been cooking for almost 35 years," Mangino told me. "I learned through my father and grandfather. ... I've worked with a lot of great chefs, but mostly I've learned a lot from my dad."
Now 50, Mangino helps out at Mangino's, and has worked in other Capital Region restaurants.
But he's always wanted to open his own place, and when his childhood friend and real estate investor Bonnie Goodwin suggested he consider one of her properties, he decided to go for it.
I met Goodwin last winter and wrote about her efforts to rehabilitate several long-vacant buildings on Eastern Avenue and turn them into attractive, modern apartment buildings. In April she acquired a fourth Eastern Avenue property, which is where Mangino's Gourmet Market will be located.
It's an ambitious project, with the potential to transform a street that has suffered from blight and neglect in recent decades but shows signs of rebirth, in part because of people like Goodwin and Mangino, who believe in its future.
Certainly, I'm excited to visit Mangino's Gourmet Market once it opens.
Maybe it was just the time of day — near dinner — but as I listened to Mangino lay out his vision for an intimate neighborhood eatery, I could feel myself getting hungry.
When it opens early next year, Mangino's Gourmet Market will be an Italian bistro/deli specializing in high-quality, affordable food. It will serve neighborhood residents, downtown workers and college students, and customers will be able to eat there or buy food to go. There will be outdoor dining, and event space upstairs.
Among other things, Mangino's will serve pizzas, salads, gelato, sandwiches, coffee, soups and desserts and dressings from Mangino's Ristorante.
Which all sounds pretty mouthwatering, if you ask me.
"We want to have a bit of everything for everyone," Mangino explained.
Mangino's Gourmet Market will pay tribute to Mangino's family — to the grandparents, Albert and Adeline, who immigrated to Schenectady from Naples, Italy, and had five children.
Albert was a fire captain at the station on Jay Street (now the home of the Mopco Improv Theater) and on weekends Adeline would cook for family, friends and firemen at the family's Saratoga County camp. It was at this camp that Mangino's Ristorante, which Mangino's parents, Richard and Pauline, now run, was eventually born.
"Family means a lot to me," Mangino said. "When people walk in, I want them to feel comfortable and welcome, that this is a good place to bring their family."
As for Goodwin, she hopes to finish renovating five Schenectady buildings by next summer.
Mangino's Gourmet Market will be located at the corner of Eastern Avenue and Prospect Street, next to two of Goodwin's other properties.
The building is over 100 years old and in need of significant renovations.
When Goodwin acquired it, there was mold under the kitchen sinks, fire damage and clear signs of decay.
To make the building functional again, its load-bearing walls were rebuilt, a new concrete foundation was poured and a loft was built out of reclaimed materials to serve as Mangino's cooking area.
Though plenty of work remains to be done, some of Mangino's equipment — deli and dessert coolers, a pizza oven — has already arrived.
With any luck, it won't be too long before you can walk into Mangino's, order coffee or a pizza or whatever else you have a hankering for, and enjoy spending some time in a neighborhood that's on the upswing.
Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.