It seems fairly safe to assume that the people behind iconic local businesses like Jerry’s Liquors and Mike’s Food & Spirits would actually be named Jerry and Mike.
It seems fairly safe… but it isn’t.
While plenty of places around town are still helmed by the folks whose names they bear, it turns out that lots of others aren’t. So who’s actually running the show at your favorite Somerville spots? In this series from our May/June edition, we set out to learn a little bit about the folks for whom some of the city’s iconic establishments are named.
Leone’s Sub & Pizza
But if you’ve ever stopped in to get a slice and a soda on your lunch break, there’s a good chance it’s partner Nick Ruccolo who you recognize behind the counter. He’s there seven days a week, and name aside, he is part of the family; his sister is married to Vic Leone, who works nights under the eatery’s iconic, zig-zagging neon beacon.
Leone’s opened as Santoro’s in 1953. “Mr. And Mrs. Leone came into the place, they ran the sub shop for Sam Santoro,” Ruccolo explains, taking a break from rolling a batch of Leone’s massive meatballs. They later purchased the restaurant, and in the late ’50s, gave it their own name. “It’s been that for 64 years, now.”
Ruccolo was born in Cambridge and grew up in Revere, but he knew the Leone’s name; he had family who lived just around the corner. After studying at Salem State and spending a year as an accountant—a job he “hated every minute of”—he stepped into the Leone’s kitchen at 22.
Today, Leone’s is almost exactly as it was when Ruccolo joined the staff, one of myriad reasons the shop endures as a community staple—a landmark, even—to this day. There’s also the fact that the food is incredible, the famed square slices so doughy and delicious the shop has shipped pizza to former customers as far away as Hawaii and Florida. The shop has partnered with and donated to nonprofits throughout the city since just about the day they opened their doors. And Ruccolo says they’ve never turned people away if they can’t pay. “I’ve been here so many years,” Ruccolo says. “If a kid didn’t have money, I’ll take care of them. We’ve always taken care of people who are down and out.”
And then, of course, there’s the sense of belonging that comes from seeing the same friendly faces every time you drop in, catching up over a sandwich at the counter. “You’re never gonna leave here, are you, Nicky?” a customer asks after placing an order for three slices. “You could go over to Italy, sit down, drink wine in the afternoon…”
But Ruccolo loves this job, and he doesn’t have any plans to retire just yet. “I enjoy what I do,” he says, smiling. “If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t come in.”
“And I can still go to Italy,” he adds. Then the phone rings, and Ruccolo turns from the counter to answer, running down the succinct list of questions familiar to so many in Somerville. “Leone’s. What is it? Who’s it for? When are you coming? We’ll see you then.”