'I'm Here To Stay, And I'm Doing This To Carry On My Family,' She Tells CBS2By Jessica Moore

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Over the past year, CBS2 has covered dozens of stories of loved ones lost by the pandemic.

They were nurses, like Kious Kelly, teachers, like Sharon Bascom, and public servants, like New York City Firefighter Ralph Costanzo. Each life was cut short by a virus that showed no mercy.

Now, CBS2’s Jessica Moore revisits a family who lost its patriarch. Joseph Migliucci died at the age of 81 in April, leaving behind a storied Italian restaurant and a daughter determined to preserve his legacy.

“I don’t know if I’ll fill those shoes,” Regina Migliucci DelFino told Moore.

At Mario’s Restaurant on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, a portrait is now propped where Migliucci stood every single night.

“I don’t know if I want to fill those shoes. I think that I want to leave him to be remembered the way he is,” DelFino said.

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The celebrated patriarch lived and breathed the family business. He did everything at Mario’s — from cooking to running the front of house, where his mega-watt smile and towering presence drew loyal customers for decades and forever endeared him to granddaughter, Jackie.

“Every time I came, I would walk straight to the kitchen. He’d pick up his apron, wipe the sweat off his face and give me a kiss, ‘hello, baby,'” said Jackie Lendinara. “Little things.”

Doctors say years of breathing in pizza flour inside the restaurant damaged Migliucci’s lungs. So much so that when the 81-year-old contracted COVID at the end of March, he passed away within a week.

“When they called us and said he was gone, it was — that’s a feeling that you never forget,” DelFino said. “It was heartbreaking. You feel like he was going to be here forever.”

“I know mentally he’s not going to be here, by physically you always feel like he’s going to walk through that door,” Lendinara added.

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His daughter’s grief was compounded by the realization that the same virus that killed her father now threatened to steal the family’s livelihood.

“Very hard, very trying on your nerves, on your financial status,” she said. “The stress level is through the roof.”

With her father gone and indoor dining shut down for most of 2020, DelFino said she spent all of her time at the restaurant, trying to preserve a pastime four generations deep.

“I have to do whatever it takes right now to make it work. I’m not in a position to hire somebody else to be here for me. I want people to know that I’m here to do this and I’m here to stay, and I’m doing this to carry on my family,” she said.

She now sees the light at the end of the tunnel. She recently got her COVID vaccine, indoor dining is finally resuming at a sustainable capacity, and now the business of carrying on her father’s legacy can truly begin.

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“They were always at the door, always welcoming. So my grandparents did it, then my father did it, now I’m doing it,” she said.

“He shined for so many years, and now it’s her turn,” Lendinara added.

It’s a job she takes seriously as she honors the generation that came before and prepares for the one that will come next.

Jessica Moore