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Market/restaurant opens in Schenectady building saved from demolition

Market/restaurant opens in Schenectady building saved from demolition

Mangino carries on family's restaurant tradition, is glad to be part of Eastern Avenue initiative
Market/restaurant opens in Schenectady building saved from demolition
Bonnie Goodwin and Rick Mangino stand in front of Mangino's on Eastern Avenue in Schenectady.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

SCHENECTADY — There’s coffee flowing and pizza baking at the new market/restaurant on Eastern Avenue at Prospect Street.

Mangino’s Gourmet Market expects to open for full service in a month but is now serving a partial menu on reduced hours as a training experience for the new staff.

Owner Rick Mangino was born into a family of Italian restaurateurs and plans a mostly Italian menu, plus classic non-Italian comfort food he expects will be an important part of the business plan.

Mangino’s Ristorante — the landmark on the south shore of Saratoga Lake that his grandparents and then parents ran from 1946 to 2018 — figures prominently in the new establishment, both visibly (mementoes are sprinkled all about) and behind the scenes (Rick Mangino’s sense of running a restaurant).

“I grew up there,” he said. “When I was a little kid, I started out rolling meatballs at 8 years old with my grandmother. She put a box down and said ‘stand on this.’”

On the top floor of the new restaurant is an upholstered bench seat from the old lakeside restaurant. As a young child, Mangino spent many evenings sleeping on it, waiting for this parents to close and take him home. Later, he moved into the kitchen.

“I learned through my father and grandmother at first when I was younger,” he said. “And then as I got older, I was fortunate enough to work with a lot of great chefs that came to work for my dad. And they taught me. I never went to culinary school.”

Also: Eastern Avenue Corridor - Conversion of old St. Mary's School waits word on grant, April 28, 2019

Mangino came to Eastern Avenue through a childhood friend, Bonnie Goodwin. The two reconnected later in life, began dating, and began talking about the row of three derelict brick buildings Goodwin had purchased on Eastern Avenue — one of which, No. 764-1/2, sat on a corner and had ground-floor space ideal for a restaurant.

“This has been the hardest but the funnest building, the most rewarding,” said Goodwin, who is continuing renovations on the two residential buildings nearby.

“We tried to reclaim a lot of material. This guy here has become quite the finish carpenter,” she added, pointing to Mangino, who is now her fiance as well as a business partner.

There are counters and an informal dining area on the first floor, a kitchen on the second floor and sit-down dining rooms on the third.

Throughout the public areas, less so in the kitchen, there are artifacts of the 120-year-old building and of the Mangino family’s 70 years in the restaurant business.

Goodwin found newspaper pages from the 1940s sealed in the floors, some of them in the Italian language, and a handwritten letter in Polish. Both are a reflection of the ethnic heritage of the neighborhood. One page of the old Schenectady Gazette informs readers that the Reds were cheering Nazi setbacks in the battle for Stalingrad; another page contains a long list of help-wanted ads specifically for women, who were being thrust into the workforce as replacements for men called to war.

A spaghetti-stained menu from the old Mangino’s Ristorante is sealed into the top of the bar as a tribute to his family’s history, and the Schenectady relics are included as a tribute to the neighborhood’s history.

Mangino said he’s excited to be part of the neighborhood’s future.

After years of effort by multiple agencies, the street is looking better. More than 20 derelict properties have been demolished on Eastern Avenue and its side streets, and a house nearing completion just up Prospect Street is possibly the first new construction in the area in decades. 

A former senior center is being converted to apartments down the hill and two vacant schools are proposed for conversion to apartments up the hill.

“These are all going to be customers of mine,” said Mangino. He also noted that he’d received 62 job applications as of Thursday, all from neighborhood residents. 

Also: Eastern Avenue Corridor - Conversion of old St. Mary's School waits word on grant, April 28, 2019

“I feel like we’re really beginning at the right time. We want to build this community back again.”

Opening the doors was not a quick or easy process. The building was seized by the city in foreclosure and turned over to the Capital Region Land Bank in 2017 for the Eastern Avenue revitalization initiative.

It was sufficiently degraded that it would have been demolished had Goodwin not agreed to buy and save it, officials said. The state and Land Bank each provided $20,000 grants for the conversion, and the Eastern Avenue Neighborhood Association supported its rezoning to allow a restaurant there.

“The first day she bought the place, she went out and bought 40 buckets and put them all around to stop the place from leaking,” Mangino recalled.

Diners wouldn’t know it today.

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