Joseph Iavarone, founder and patriarch of Iavarone Bros., Long Island's homegrown specialty food chain, died of cardiac arrest Sunday at his home in Garden City. He was 88 and had suffered a stroke in September.
The vibrant, Italian-inflected gourmet supermarkets in Wantagh, Woodbury, New Hyde Park and Maspeth, Queens, that bear his name descend from his parents' Brooklyn pork store. Pasquale and Rose Iavarone emigrated from Casavatore Casoria near Naples in 1919 and less than 10 years later opened an Italian pork store, P. Iavarone, on Wilson Avenue in Bushwick.
The oldest son of seven children, Joseph joined his father in the business after serving as a medic in World War II. Joseph's brother, Jerry, came on board after his tour in Korea, and the store was rechristened Iavarone Bros.
"That little store was maybe 1,000 square feet," said Iavarone's son, Joe Iavarone Jr., "and they sold more sausage than all of our current stores put together. We have photographs of the store during the holidays -- they had to put up police barricades outside to handle the crowds."
Back then, Iavarone said, the store sold three types of fresh pork sausage (plain, fennel and hot), plus some dried sausage and its own cured prosciutto. "My uncle Jerry was out with the customers; he was the personality. My dad was the horse, the backbone. He made all the sausage."
In the late '50s, Iavarone was a founding member of the Italian American Pork Association, a fraternity of New York area pork stores -- among them A & S and Esposito in Brooklyn, Cangiano's on Staten Island -- that convened once a month to share ideas. Motto: "Eat pork. Live longer."
In the '70s, the brothers opened a second store in Middle Village, Queens, and a third in Maspeth. The original Brooklyn store closed and the sausage-making moved to Maspeth. "That's when my dad retired," said Joe Jr. "We got a sausage-making machine -- it was the only thing that could replace him. We named it 'Marco' after Marco Island in Florida where my parents bought a winter home."
Joseph and his wife, Angelina, who died in 2011, had three sons who all joined the business, as have some of his grandchildren.
Over the next three decades, Iavarone Bros. pushed east onto Long Island. There are now four big, bustling locations, all of which sell a wide range of fish, produce, baked goods, cheese, prepared foods, specialty groceries and Italian imports as well as more than a dozen varieties of fresh sausage.
Joseph Iavarone was an active member of the Lion's Club and the Order of Sons of Italy. In addition to his sons and their wives, Pat and Phyllis Iavarone of Manhasset, John and Florence Iavarone of Massapequa, and Joe Jr. and June Iavarone of Oyster Bay Cove, he is survived by nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
The wake will be held at Park Chapels in Garden City Park Tuesday and Wednesday, from 2 to 5 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. A funeral Mass will be celebrated Thursday morning at St. Anne's RC Church in Garden City. Donations may be made to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation or to the American Cancer Society.