Work hard and treat people well: Those two tenets are a central part of the magic that propelled Antonio Fiorito’s success as the founder of Seven Brothers Gourmet, first in Queens and then in Oceanside.
"Without him, we wouldn’t be here," said MaryAnn Piazza, a niece. "He really was the patriarch and he started the American dream for us."
That's because Fiorito, of Oceanside, was able to bring his parents and a dozen siblings from Italy to New York to contribute to and share in his success.
Fiorito, 74, died May 6 of complications that arose after a heart ailment, Piazza said.
That date also was the birthday of his wife, also named MaryAnn, who died 10 years ago. They had married in 1974.
"They were just soul mates," his niece said.
"Everyone said what an impact he had on them, he always had words of wisdom," Piazza said.
Fiorito set out from Naples in 1968 while in his 20s. The first night in a Times Square hotel cost $15 — almost all the cash he had — but he was immediately hired by a pizzeria whose owner, spotting his new dishwasher’s potential, sent him to a butcher in Queens.
"He was just really hardworking, very intelligent, a ‘seize the opportunity, seize the day’ kind of personality," Piazza said of her uncle.
Fiorito came from a long line of butchers, Piazza said. The Queens butcher, Sante Monaco, not only hired him but became a mentor, and he let Fiorito sleep in the basement until he could afford his own place.
"I guess things just fell in place — with a lot of blood, sweat and tears," Piazza said.
Upon meeting Monaco’s daughter — his future wife — "he instantly fell in love and never went back to Italy," his niece said.
In 1972, Monaco helped Fiorito open his first butcher shop, Tony & 7 Brothers, on Wyckoff Avenue in Brooklyn.
Monaco also sponsored Fiorito’s parents as contract workers, along with their six other sons and six daughters, Piazza said. Fiorito's parents and the siblings who were old enough all worked together in the butcher shop.
Two years later, the shop moved to Queens and added grocery products.
"We all grew up on the same block," Piazza said, explaining how close the family has stayed.
"That store was kind of like a home base for us," a role the Oceanside shop now serves for the younger generation, she said.
Fiorito "really worked tirelessly to make sure they were set up to be successful," she said.
She added, "His leisure time was when he traveled and went on vacation with his children and grandchildren."
Fiorito is survived by four children: Lisa Alongis and Joseph Fiorito, both of Oceanside; RoseAnn Correa of Howard Beach; and Anthony Fiorito of Pelham in Westchester County.
He is survived by his siblings Maria Taurino of Oceanside; Mario Fiorito of Northport; Anna Kranenberg of Hauppauge; Sandro Fiorito, Flora Fiorito, Salvatore Fiorito and Rosaria Petito, all of Howard Beach; Luciano Fiorito of Brooklyn; Ciro Fiorito of Tampa, Florida; and Giovanna DeMena, Patrizia Ciotola and Carlo Fiorito, all of Naples, Italy.
Six grandchildren also survive him.