From his perch inside the popular Wheatley Hills Tavern, Francis "Chubby" Zaino could see generations of Westbury families dining, drinking, dancing and having fun.
In the hierarchy of the family-run tavern, Zaino was the designated schmoozer who worked the floor and greeted customers.
"He loved the people," said his wife Kathleen Zaino, 81, of Melville. "Everybody knew him. Even on vacation in Florida people would know him."
Zaino died of heart problems on Aug. 15 at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn. He was 84.
Born and raised in Westbury, Zaino served a stint as a corporal in the Army before returning home for good to work in the family tavern, started by his father Frank in 1934.
He got his nickname as a kid from a family friend, said his sister Frances Smith, 89, of Westbury. The nickname's meaning is lost to history, since Zaino wasn't actually chubby, Smith said. Zaino met the then-Kathleen O'Connor at the movies, where she was with a group of girlfriends who took pity on him sitting by himself. "I said to my friends, 'who would ever go to the movies by himself?' They introduced me to him and asked 'would you like to go out with him?' and I said OK," she said.
The couple married in 1956 and had four sons and a daughter. Three of Zaino's sons predeceased him -- Timothy in a motorcycle accident, David from heart failure, and in June, Thomas from medical issues. "It was very, very difficult," Smith said.
He attended all his children's football and baseball games. "He loved sports," his wife said. "He never missed a game."
Zaino was a member of the Wheatley Hills Golf Club for 30 years. He was active in the Westbury Chamber of Commerce.
He developed the tavern's social offerings, from jazz nights to dances to tea salons for college students. When the dance craze faded, Zaino helped the tavern shift its focus to food -- and accolades piled up for the prime ribs, while the shrimp scampi was featured in Bon Appetit magazine, Smith said. The tavern also hired hundreds of local Westbury teens over the years. One former employee, a federal judge, had such fond memories of her experience that she asked Zaino to attend her swearing-in ceremony.
The family sold the tavern in 1996. "He was very sad to see it go," Kathleen Zaino said.
Zaino was buried at St. Brigid's Church in Westbury. In addition to his wife and sister, Zaino is survived by son Mark Zaino of East Meadow and daughter Maureen Zaino of Hicksville.