Celestino Gambino, owner of La Parmigiana, a popular Italian restaurant in the Village of Southampton, died Thursday of cancer. He was 73.
La Parmigiana, a pizzeria and a deli, opened its doors in 1974, two years after Gambino, his wife, Josephine, and their seven children left Palermo, Italy, to make a new life on Long Island.
"My father had never cooked in his life, never boiled water, never fried an egg," Rudy Gambino said.
Two years later, Celestino Gambino had learned how to cook and struck out on his own.
"He defines the American dream," said Southampton mayor Mark Epley. "He brought his family here, opened a restaurant and built it into an institution in Southampton."
Born on Feb. 9, 1937, to a farmer in Palermo, Gambino wanted to become a priest, his son said. But Gambino's parents, who cared for a wealthy family's lemon orchards, couldn't afford to send him to seminary school.
Gambino sold sewing machines but the income wasn't enough to support his wife and children, so he moved to the United States, first settling in Center Moriches, then East Quogue, and finally Southampton.
La Parmigiana began with just four tables and a small menu consisting of pizza and two pasta dishes, before expanding in 1984 into a full-service restaurant and catering facility.
In addition to his wife and son, Gambino is survived by son Francesco Gambino of Hampton Bays; daughters Maria Ligregni of Hampton Bays, Anna Gambino of East Quogue, Patty Gambino of Hampton Bays, Rose Gambino of Water Mill and Jovanna Gambino of Southampton; brothers Peter Gambino of Palermo, Sicily, and John Gambino of East Quogue; sisters Lina Cenesina of Southampton and Sara Burriesci of East Hampton; 19 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Roman Catholic Church in Southampton, followed by burial at the church's cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Gabriella Ashley Gambino Foundation Scholarship Fund, 35 Winding Way, Water Mill, NY 11967.