Meet Chef Russell Preno III
The Preno Family is the main character in this century long discussion of Scranton's rich history of the downtown. We begin to speak about the world that exists for one before they can come to terms with their position in the narrative through a life of recovery.
Russell is a graduate of Scranton Preparatory School, he is also a graduate of the University of Scranton and holds a Bachelor's in Science in Political Science. In 2008 Russell completed his Culinary Studies at Florence University of the Arts ( APICIUS: International School of Hospitality).
Russell is the Head Chef and Owner along with his mother Debbie Preno at Russell's Restaurant in Scranton,
Steaks, seafood & classic Italian entrees served in a relaxed setting with a patio.
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Joe Van Wie 0:08
Hello and thanks for listening to all better.fm.
I'm your host, Joe van wie I have a framed article in my hand right now. I keep on my wall. It's an article that was written June 9 2014. By Rebecca Brown at the Scranton times. Well known restaurant tour dies. Russell P. Perino Jr. Family cooking was everything. He was an unfailing host and unlimited storyteller. And unrivaled chef once made 10 gallons of spaghetti sauce at the Vice President's request. With the last name of Perino he was synonymous with good food and good company associated with his family owned Scranton restaurants, including Prinos which opened in 1923. Russell P. Perino Jr. died Monday at age 71. A week after celebrating 36 years of marriage with his lovely wife, Debbie. This episode I interview, Russell Perino, the third, my friend, Russell's a graduate of the University of Scranton, studied political science. And through his story he tells today he speaks to being the fifth generation, a legacy of cooking and serving the people of Scranton to a very interesting story, and I want you to meet Russell
All right. Well, that's a good lead in for us. Russell's here with me right now. And I think we're gonna cover some ground. How did this pre know legacy start in Scranton, and I know it started with your great grandfather, Tommy Perino. Tell me a little bit about who Tommy Perino was. And when When did Tommy get here?
Yes. So, first of all, thank you, Joe, thank you for having me here. And it's my great grandfather, Tommy Perino. They opened up Prinos restaurant back in 1920 3am. And my great grandmother. So the story goes from the bits and pieces I've learned from my father and you know, other members of my family. My great grandfather and great grandmother came over from Italy. I believe my great my great grandfather came through Cuba. My great grandmother came through Michigan, Cuba, Cuba. Yeah. Is pre Castro. You don't
Joe Van Wie 3:07
hear that often. No. Someone came to America to Cuba. Yeah.
They met in New York City. Both of them were married to different people.
Joe Van Wie 3:17
What time what year is turn of the century? The century?
Yeah. 1910s I would say you know, and, you know, I'm not sure exactly how they made it to Scranton, but I know they,
Joe Van Wie 3:32
there's no easy way to make it
or no easy way to get out. But, you know, so they opened the restaurants. It used to be called the hotel Belmont. Right. Located in Lackawanna. Adams, yes. So they opened in 1923. I believe my grandmother, my great grandmother was actually she was the cook she really the chef. Yeah, my so it wasn't Tommy, it wasn't time. You know, Here's more of the front of the house. He was the he was the showman. Yes, absolutely. If you will. And he so in my grandma, my great grandmother, you know, and I think or, you know, her life revolved around a family, you know, and, and cooking. And, you know, I would hear stories, so many stories of, you know, Sunday dinners. Back when my father and you know, my aunt Mary Jo, Uncle Tommy and Peggy were telling me these stories that Sunday dinner, my great grandmother would start preparing like on a Tuesday or Wednesday and it was a big I mean, it was a big thing. And every Sunday they would have dinner and she would make the homemade ravioli isn't though all the fresh pastas and they're Catholic and Italian Yep. And Southside. They were in south so I wonder if they got some church in numbers. You know, I don't think
Joe Van Wie 4:52
there was Saturday masters. But, so they met each other that's rare to hear. They were married, but both married then they meet and left their previous marriages from what I understand that love some powerful connections a passionate story. Thank God. Right a passion was brought to Scranton passion, glory, passion and glory, culinary glory. That's an inside joke. Maybe I'll put an insert there. So, they come to America. They make their way to Scranton to start a family, the Belmont? When does it become? Prinos?
You know, I'm not. I'm not quite I know. Prinos the open just so 1923 You know, and I don't know the exact, you know, like the history behind it. But I do know, you know, 1923 Prinos open because we were in business 1923 to 2077 years. We were down on that corner. Wow. Yeah. That was
Joe Van Wie 5:55
this magical place. It was it was absolutely. So they open up Prinos. And what's your grandfather's name?
Russell Russell. Yeah, so I am the third. I'm the third Joseph. Joseph Aloysius.
Joe Van Wie 6:10
One side note. That's three generations of Prinos. And bam, we've been friends. Yes. Father's and me and Ross. So 1923 Prinos opens. Was there any other really Italian flavored cuisine and spirit? I
mean, not that I mean, back then not not enough. And I think that's why, you know, I mean, free knows was the spot. You know, that was the spot for many years. It was Yeah. And don't forget now back in the 1920s. And, you know, Scranton was booming. Absolutely.
Joe Van Wie 6:43
And to really paint that picture. It's the center of the megalopolis from DC to Boston. Call, you know, took some hits, but in the 20s, it was still booming. There was absolutely, yeah, a lot of labor movements here. There was action. Yeah.
And Lackawanna Avenue, especially, you know, downtown Lackawanna Avenue in that corner. Yeah. You know, was was the center of it all.
Joe Van Wie 7:04
And the one of the largest convention centers that our region had was were across the street,
the hotel KC right across the street, right behind Prinos. You had, you know, the station The station has now.
Joe Van Wie 7:17
So from the start of those doors opening Prinos inception, it's a landmark landmark to Scranton history, immigration. And for generations, let's take one generation at a time. Okay. Tell me a little bit about your Russel. The first your grandfather, he took over Prinos
key. Yes. So it was my grandfather and my aunt Joanna. So my great grandmother, my grandfather had two children, Russel and Joanna. And so my grandfather, he works. He was a chef at Prinos in the kitchen, and then I know for a brief period of time, he actually worked on the railroad. Yeah, I saw some old pictures of him on the dining cart of like the Phoebe snow or whatever, like Scranton, and
Joe Van Wie 8:09
my grandfather was the work for the Phoebe snow. Yes.
So he was he was in the dining card. So it was always you know, it was life somehow, you know, revolved around hospitality or, you know,
Joe Van Wie 8:21
yeah. So then he bring the he comes under the fold of your great grandparents, he starts working in the restaurant starts working
in the restaurant, and he was in the kitchen, and my aunt Joanna, was the hostess. And so she was the front of the house, my grandfather was in the back of the house. And, you know, so and they worked, I believe alongside like, with my great grandfather, then in the meantime, once my great grandmother started her family, with my grandfather and my aunts and then, you know, with our grandchildren, then my father and my aunts and uncles, she more or less retired. Yeah. And, you know, took care of the family while the men were at work.
Joe Van Wie 8:59
Were speaking to men. Was it common? I don't know, myself. I'm asking you. For a male to be the chef.
Was it? I mean, back then. Yeah. You know.
Joe Van Wie 9:12
So Ross is the first one to take the line and the kitchen over your grandfather,
my grandfather, and I know there was one other gentleman that I would always hear stories of his name Claude Angelus. His name was Yeah. And he was Yeah, I mean, I think he was like, the chef extraordinaire of pre Prinos. For like, for a long time. I don't want to say a number but for a really long time back in the heyday, you know,
Joe Van Wie 9:38
what's the menu look like? That? was great. I actually have
a so my good friend Bobby Walker. His dad is a Scranton historian buff and has found a lot of old menus. I have. I have a menu site. I wish April had it. Have a menu signed by this Claudia Angeles 1950s. And it was a menu, the daily specials which changed every day and back then they were open for lunch and dinner. Yeah, they had a it's a long day. It's a long day.
Joe Van Wie 10:11
What's your grandfather? Just I don't mean to interrupt, but that's, that's like 6am to midnight. Sure,
sure. And, and back then to, you know, for, you know, Prinos as me and you remember, it was on that corner there behind it was Pearl vision on right. So, but back then Prinos took that whole half block where Pearl vision wasn't everything that was all Prinos there was a gourmet shop, a big shop, there were two different bars there. There was a men's bar and, you know, a regular, you know, bar. So it was a much, much bigger operation back then. And my father told me, you know, at any given day, there would be, you know, on a busy day between lunch and dinner at 800 1000 people coming through the doors. Oh,
Joe Van Wie 10:51
my God. Yeah, I had no idea. And then to speak to that amends bar. I don't think I if I'm not mistaken, women really weren't in bars until the 60s 50s around here, but really hanging out wasn't wasn't common. No, no, in the trough at the bottom of the bar was usually for men to just urinate.
Yeah. We still have cars. Yeah.
Joe Van Wie 11:15
Well, I've always wanted to use it
Unknown Speaker 11:19
once or twice at a club, Bob.
Joe Van Wie 11:23
So Wow. I mean, that's, that's something to imagine in my head. I'm seeing the bakery. Yeah. And your dad grew up in the midst of this now. was drinking a common kind of Yes. In your dad house, your great grandfather, grandfather,
my grandfather, you know, my father, aunts and uncles. You know, I know I funny story. Well, a story of my grandfather was, you know, he so he was like I said, the front of the house. And you know, and I think he was somewhat of a ladies man, you know, so yeah. So my great grandmother would be home tending to the children and the grandkids, whatnot. And then a summer home up in Madisonville actually was and that's where all of my my father told me some great stories about the parties, they would throw there and all of the judges and politicians and the who's who of Scranton of Lackawanna County of Northeast Pennsylvania, up at my grandfather's summer home at this cottage up there, you know, and it was also a place where he was able to bring school mods on a day that you know, and, you know, subsequently he died on his way home, from there, back in, like in the 1960s Drunk driving with one of his go mods, got into a car accident, and he didn't die in the car accident, but I believe it was, you know, not too long after he never left the hospital. And, you know, my aunt actually a few weeks ago, saw him in store and they think, you know, part of it was he may have been going through the DTS or you know, off of alcoholic seizures a big drinker. And he, you know, he was laying in the hospital but there and wasn't able to drink and he died.
Joe Van Wie 13:14
That's yeah, you know, I don't think that was too uncommon for alcoholics. Sure. Like how do you know an alcoholic is going through withdrawal, especially from a Trump dramatic car accident? If you don't know that you will die from alcohol withdrawal? Absolutely. Oh, that sucks. Yeah. Well, he sounded like he had fun before then. Yeah,
Unknown Speaker 13:35
a great time.
Joe Van Wie 13:37
So it's, it's why when we I talk about these things, and I think about my own grandfather, or even stories of yours. I when I was drinking, I would always pressure myself like, what is different for me? Why can't you keep it together? Because I feel like I have a romantic idea of our grandfathers in the worlds Grant was then sure they were drunk all the time. All the time. Yeah. But somehow they seem like my grandfather always had a suit and tie on. They had their shit together. So it's a Yeah, so I have this I have this lens, this foggy lens. I wasn't there. I should have been 70 years. But when I think of those things, I think of an ideal that always kept me sick. Why can't I do this? Why can I just keep a tradition? I would
hear you know, stories of you know, you know, like the the Martini lunches and the Manhattan lunches they would have and that's what it was. And like I said pretty nose was open for lunch back in the day. And I know that, you know, you go you went in there on any given day and every single customer they there are five or six days a week and every single person has their own barstool or their own booth and they were pretty much reserved for that person. And it was they would have their martinis or their Manhattan's launch and that's when they would, you know, that's how their day was.
Joe Van Wie 14:54
My grandfather would progress from people Ortiz breakfast to Prinos Sure, and he would have his Drinks and the only thing that man could eat throughout the day was a sardine with butter on a cracker and he put a sardine on. I mean, could you think of something more horrifying? Yeah. But nobody ate
olives or cherry and that was soaked in there drank
Joe Van Wie 15:15
to say you were open for lunch. I don't think a person today would understand what lunch was in Scranton, from 1900 to 1980. It was drinking.
Yeah, it wasn't like I was going to Monstars are carrying me as our Henry's doing a, you know, a little bite to eat and a latte.
Joe Van Wie 15:34
And I think it was notorious. I've heard judges and lawyers, retired lawyers speaking to this that everyone knew in this state and up and down the eastern seaboard. If you had a court case, or some kind of legal affair in Scranton, definitely get there in the morning, because in the afternoon, you're in big trouble. Everyone in the town is just going last.
Unknown Speaker 15:55
Oh, yeah. George is included. Right? Absolutely. Probably more so than any of them.
Joe Van Wie 16:00
Yeah. So it's not corruption. We're just helping each other.
And we were the ones that were able to provide that service.
Joe Van Wie 16:09
It's wild, wild stuff. So your grand jury drinking there. It's generational, but it's wrapped in this work ethic. And creating a business that became a landmark and part of Scranton is history. And Stuart, that's a lot of romance, especially for people our age thinking about what those times were. We missed everything. I like the Sopranos. Yeah. So your dad is the first modern youth he's going to be the third generation to take over this business.
Joe Van Wie 16:41
Do you think he was very hesitant to do that at first in his 20s?
I would say a little bit hesitant as a as a very polite way of saying it, you know, because he had his own his battles. Yeah. With, you know, with alcoholism with addiction.
Joe Van Wie 16:56
Do you relate to the more thinking like thinking about your dad in his 20s? What he was probably experienced as Sam
Epps. Absolutely, absolutely. And there were times when I believed me and you have talked about it before you know that, like you would, like you said, like to romance at all. And I would hear stories of my father and what a great time it was, and especially back then card games till seven in the morning and then having to go to work. And it sounded like a movie. It sounded like a movie. Yeah. And it sounded like a lot of fun. And I tried to live that, you know, but it just, it's painful. It's painful. It was, you know, it might have had fun here and there. But at the end, it definitely wasn't any fun.
Joe Van Wie 17:33
You know, what the disservices you grew up in a restaurant? Everyone's at their best Sure. The best clothes the best behavior and the best stories? Yeah, nobody talks about excruciating suffering at dinner. So we don't get to
hear those. We see from like, you know, say seven o'clock to midnight or one in the morning or whatever, you know, but then they don't see. We see them they don't see us when we're finished.
Joe Van Wie 18:01
Those those appeals meant a lot to me. I'd hear them from my dad. Yeah, we're him and your My Father and your Father, pal. And Ron, he stayed he lived with us for a year. But your dad was probably the most sincere kindness man I ever saw. Alcoholism did nothing to his soul. It was just a disorder heat. What a beautiful person.
Great guy, you know, and I and I always say it. I mean, I truly believe you know, we're all the majority of us are all great people. Yes. With a horrible disease.
Joe Van Wie 18:32
Yeah, I always like to think of them. As, you know, a father figure. To me. It was my first job. We're going to put the restaurant. So your dad gets sober. That's kind of the first break in the cycle of what's happening. You know, not only in culture, lunches are now changing. People are eating food by the 80s. Attempting to for lunch. People are getting sober. This this life of dysfunction. I'm sure cocaine expedited that for a lot of people.
Yeah. And it was the early 80s. Right, the early 80s. And you have this, you know, this wave come through our area where a couple of different treatment centers were opening up, and there was definitely a demand for it. Yeah, it was in this area. Absolutely. And he was part of that. You know, the early 80s, I believe. So I was about two years old when my dad got sober. And I think he had a couple previous attempts at it. Yeah, you know, but his last one, I know he was at Mar worth. And then they sent him to a lien lodge where he spent I believe it was nine months
Joe Van Wie 19:35
we've had three liens on the show so far.
I never made it there. I signed. I signed a contract. The last time I was at Clearbrook they still have it.
Unknown Speaker 19:46
Oh I broke contracts. After I signed them on however, you know,
I ended up somewhere else
Joe Van Wie 19:55
so your dad got sober. I think 83 or 84
about 80 for a divorce that was two years old.
Joe Van Wie 20:03
That revolutionized his life and his, his, the course he took after that,
it said, and I am so grateful for it because my childhood, I had such an unbelievable childhood, you know, I grew up, I'm an only child. You know, I grew up in a home with so much love. You know, my mom and my dad. You know, my dad's being sober and living a sober life, you know, in recovery. You know, my fondest memories are, you know, your father, Leo, neck, you know, people like that in my life, always, you know, going to AAA meetings, like four or five years old, I know exactly. I knew the schedule, I knew what meetings were going on to a quick, funny story. I was in kindergarten, and my mother, my mom will tell the story. So sister Gina Barrett, I went to Mary wood for kindergarten. And she, when my mom would pick, my mom would pick us up. And you know, if if the kids were good, everything, she would just put them in the car. But then if she was standing off to the side and waved you over, you know, something was up. So my mom, probably three or four days a week got waved over, you know, but this one particular time, she said, You know what, Debbie, I just have to say, you know, I'm not worried, but I just want to let you know, you know, Russell, you know, he has such a, an imagination and whatnot. And, you know, we were going around in the circle telling the kids were saying what we did over this weekend, you know, this was a Monday and what we did over the weekend, and when it got to Russell, he told the class and myself that he was at an AAA meeting up at the Waverly comm center. And he was with George and Leo and Joe and deck and neck and, you know, like I just put his imagination is just I don't know, where he gets it. And my mother had to say, well, you know, Sister, I'm sorry, but that that was actually the truth. He was
Joe Van Wie 22:01
a card game 70s
You know, and I got to grow up, you know, so in with that, and you know, and then with you and Gian vigneti. And so like the kids have we played with that's the Waverly calm was my favorite meeting because they like great playground out there that I loved when it was I remember
Joe Van Wie 22:23
going tomorrow or just playing with the dog. Yeah, absolutely. It's so the idea of treatment and what was coming out of Mar worth of what my understanding even as a kid I don't know if you relate. It was like, this is where you end up on this. We're not I didn't have the details, but this we're good people end up Yeah, yeah, everyone, I always had a great feeling. And it's the first understanding and relationship I kind of have my dad was the idea that he was sober. We were around him then.
Sure. Yeah, cuz I don't you know, I was two years old when my dad got sober. So I don't remember. So from the time I was two till 15 I only knew him as sober, you know. And it was yeah, it was the best. Like I said, I had the best childhood, a lot to do with with recovery.
Joe Van Wie 23:13
And that's that's why I wanted to have me on today. I think Scranton is a unique place like like this because there's generational people living here in the sense. And here's a group that's been sober that chain was broken by your father, my dad that introduced us to a lot earlier than they had tried to go it just keeps getting easier this cycle of whatever trauma lies in. In us to have addictions. It's been broken smashed apart, or at least there's there's a spotlight on it so you can't hide. It's easy. Yeah, that's a community
that is so grateful for it.
Joe Van Wie 23:48
So your dad opened. Russell's then in the late 80s. Right and he wanted to go on his own
1986 him and my mother opened and it wasn't so it started off. I don't know if you really want it to go on his own. However, he when he was at Alina Lodge, the way he ran the place Gerald Dean Delaney they used to call her God right Delaney
Joe Van Wie 24:09
and my cousin T. Martin.
Okay, tea, okay. I know the name. Yeah. So they, you know, it was suggested that he did not go back to Prinos because all of his other attempts at sobriety he would end up back at Prinos and then fall into that cycle. Yeah, you know, people places and things. So he ended up and it was more you know, for that and for I believe, his humility. He when he first got out of treatment the last time he ended up at the screen Muni, flipping hotdogs, flipping hamburgers and cooking hot dogs at the concession you know, and that's that's what he did. You know, this great chef, a great restaurant in Scranton, you know, the center of the city. He was up at the scrap Muni, I believe it was more for, you know, a little deflation of his ego when humans Nobody built his solar. Yeah, absolutely. You know, and then him and my mom in 1986 bought you know, it was severe snows and open. Right. Yeah. And open Russell's.
Joe Van Wie 25:14
So Russell's is a departure from being downtown and landmark of Prinos Prinos is still open and your dad went on his own and
he Ted. Yeah.
Joe Van Wie 25:24
speakeasy at the top of the Scranton,
right, right at the foot of Bunker Hill.
Joe Van Wie 25:30
So this is you grew up in that restaurant?
I grew up and yeah, I mean, my earliest memories. Uh, you know, from the time I was born until four years old at Prinos, and then from four years old till today at Russell's. And, you know, and then for for a while it was it was both, you know, it was Russell's and Prinos. You know, I would go back and forth. And they were, you know, that would be like a treat for us to be able to, you know, on a day off, we would go to the other restaurant, we'd get to go down there. And you know, and don't forget now so I'm an only child. Right? And on my dad's side, he has two, two sisters and a brother. None of them have children. So I'm, I'm the only one right yeah. So, you know, when I would go down there.
Joe Van Wie 26:14
It was Tommy, Peggy Mary Jo. My full disclosure. My mother worked at Prinos. I did a night or two if I got sucked out of Russell by Mary Jo. It was like in the 90s. But I've worked for Prinos Kathleen, my sister, my sister Gina did. Yeah. All family. I think my dad even tend to bar Prinos Sure. But not for long. Yeah. Your grandfather, my dad's man. So So your dad opens Russell's he's sober. Russell's becomes an immediate like for our area, or region and immediate success. And it's a headquarters for fine dining. He updates the menu that gets to be on his own spread his own wings of how he likes to
cook. Yeah. And it was it was a perfect dynamic with him and my mother, you know, so it was, you know, my dad in the kitchen. And you know, and I think we'll talk about a little later how he I believe he got his passion back. Yeah. For for cooking and being able to be on his own and do his thing. Now. I'm not under the, you know,
Joe Van Wie 27:21
you didn't have a choice. Oh, well.
Unknown Speaker 27:24
Yeah, we all know who the real boss is.
Joe Van Wie 27:26
Yeah. Thank God. Yeah, absolutely. Business Acumen Russell did not know. You didn't know how to run a restaurant. And and your mom knew. At that time, she was finishing Mary wood.
And yeah, she was working at the Moses Taylor hospitals and nutritionists. It's a match made in heaven. And they were the like, me and my mom are now the good cop, bad cop. I think that's kind of how they were too. You know, people come in and say I need to borrow a couple bucks or can I have this night off? You know, and if I really know they'll be like, go ask my mom. And yeah, well, you know, I could come to work. Yeah, maybe I don't need that. $50 Or it's okay.
Joe Van Wie 28:04
I never asked your mom for dinner. I just call you dad. Okay.
So, from an early age, what did you did you always have a clear path in your head from being in the restaurant. to high school, you're you went to prep script. Were you always thinking of going to the restaurant I'm taking over the family business it was it was always
in the back of my mind and I always knew it was there for me to do if I want it to as a backup. Well you know my parents when I was younger, you know they kind of you know, they steered me not to say they steered me away from them but they always said like, you know, you can and I know you want to say do better but you see how hard we work you know and it's try something else you know, maybe look at law maybe look at this are looking at different avenues. And you know, I thought about it but the thing is like I loved it, like I loved going to the restaurant from the earliest from you know, as far as I could remember, you know, my so we opened Russell's 1986 And my parents worked crazy hours and my grandma and my grandpa my mom's mother and father would watch me over in West Side you know, and so my dad would pick me up and my grandmother would you know, be gentle and yeah, the red Cadillac right the coupe deville she would you know, she would have me all ready and I you know, my bowl of cereal and I would be sleeping and my dad and put me in the little pajamas with the feed on and then you know, come midnight one o'clock when they were done working out Russell's they would finish he would pick me up to take me home. And when I got into the car and west side now you know we're coming from West Side. We had to get locked. Yeah, and you would take like one avenue, and I would be awake. And I would throw an absolute hissy fit if we were not able to stop at Prinos because you know at midnight, one of the more Learning is going Yeah, so right. And this is the Yeah, like mid 80s. So we would, you know, he would stop at Prinos. And I would go in and, you know, I was the center of attention, I would walk in and we had that long table, and the bar, the middle of the bar there, they'll do the horseshoe bar. And then that one long table when I got there, you know, you'd have Bill Sweeney, Billy Calpe. And you have the whole cast of characters, and they'd see me and my aunt would put Bon Jovi on the jukebox, and I'd be on that middle table dance and sliding across one end to the other people would be given me money and it was like, you know, I loved it. I love the excitement. I loved the people. Yeah, you know, and, you know, at a young age, like me, looking at that, it was like, everybody was having fun. Yeah, you know, everybody's having a good time. And like you said, before, you know, you didn't hear the, you know, you didn't see the sorrow and the destruction and you know what it was, you know, some to some people it was causing you just like I as a four year old saw these people all dressed off having just an amazing time. And I liked it. I was attracted to it. Yeah,
Joe Van Wie 31:00
it's a massive flood of dopamine just being released in it's a community, there's a real connection, even at a bar
and these people, you know, and I even say it's like today like it's, you know, I don't look at like, I don't say like a customer. You know, it's like a big family like as friends. It's friends. It's family.
Joe Van Wie 31:20
It's not cliche in the corporate sense family, like some creep coming up here with suspenders, but you're serving someone's who your great grandfather, there's a legacy of ghosts behind you that served each other. Absolutely. How many places have that now? So now we're you started Jack Dempsey's your family in Scranton, that's essentially where you were downtown. It was Dempsey's sure of the time squares. I
mean, now, you know, so here, I'm fourth generation, right? And think of all the different families who were forth. So one example my real good friend Andrew Weinberger, right. So he in he, we will talk about it at the restaurant. He brings his kids in there now and their fifth generation. You know, Andrew remembers coming in there with his you know, he knows his great grandfather was in there. His grandfather, grandmother, yeah, his his mom and dad, Andrew and now his children. So just five generations of that were able to, you know, to be together and to
Joe Van Wie 32:16
Yeah, and they were vendors probably have the real the first restaurant of choice, right? Yeah, absolutely.
Yeah. Holy smokes. Yeah. And that's just one example. Yeah, that's one that's
Joe Van Wie 32:25
one of 100 200 people you could pick Sure. So you're you're following Intel dance and I'm bars with Putin, Spider Man pajamas. I'm more controlling a crowd you know, you had your struggles with addiction. And I'm sure they started like all of us in adolescence and this need that's mapped by the alcohol and the fantasy life that should be completed, which sure I want to fast forward. You know, what did that do to you in your 20s you're working at the restaurant and I noticed that when we would work there. You were rarely in the kitchen then you were always on the floor bar.
more so on the floor and yeah, because my dad was still there. And we had a we had a good crew in the kitchen in the kitchen you know, I don't know I think I was more needed well here okay. I was more needed out at the bar and at the time depot, right our good friend Bebo Genteel. One store by all right, he, you know, he got sick and I was his, you know, I was his quote, unquote, barback. And the one day he, you know, he got sick had to go to the hospital. I was playing teener league. I was 13 years old, in my uniform and spikes and my father drove over, you know, right, a block away half a block away to the Chino league field, got me off the field and put me behind the bar. My first shift by myself. Yeah, it was a Saturday night in a baseball uniform at 13 years old. Yeah. And I'll tell you I was I was a great part. So yeah. Oh, yeah. You were I knew how to work the crowd work the room. varnishes are always perfect, perfect, perfect.
Joe Van Wie 34:05
People had a great line when it threw a knife at my foot not to get my foot but he was trying to cut some lines with this really Dolittle? Those old years old from freedom to throw it into the floor goes that knife couldn't cut fucking water.
He looked just like Al Pacino.
The best you know. So
Joe Van Wie 34:31
you're bartending. You're working in the restaurant? At the end of your addiction? I mean, I don't know. Whatever you want to express about it. You were in the kitchen.
I was in the kitchen. Yes. Because, yeah, at the end of my addiction, then you know my father. Retired. You know, he was spending a lot of time down in Florida. So and my mom was out on the floor, you know, my mom, obviously still so she was out there. We were able to we had a good staff out on the floor. Ah, you know, we had Dawn and Barb and that whole you know all those you know my cousins Eddie Doherty, John Merrick, Shaq bartending. So we were pretty set to put
Joe Van Wie 35:11
context to that most restaurants don't have that you had two people that have been there. 1520 years. The restaurant is running. Well look
at Timmy. Right? So So Timmy started 19 Valentine's Day of 19 7314 years old washing dishes. And he worked up until COVID. He was guys took care. 2019 2020. So from 1973 to 2020. He was with us. Yeah,
Joe Van Wie 35:39
yeah. And he became your family?
Restaurant? Absolutely. Absolutely.
Joe Van Wie 35:44
So at the end, how would you describe your consideration of your position there? Like? Did you feel trapped by your own family business at the end? Or what was it about your addiction that was just tugging you away from being present in a life? That would be fourth generation restaurant? Yeah.
Well, I really, you know, I feel like I didn't have a choice. Like it. And I don't mean, I didn't have a choice of, you know, working or doing something else. I don't mean a choice of doing what I was doing at the restaurant. I didn't have a choice of not being able to drink or use drugs or not like I had to write that's addiction. I mean, I couldn't just stop. You know, all these people are, you know, the red, the red flags are going up and all this stuff, but I couldn't stop. Yeah. You know, so there was no, I didn't have an awful nightmare. Yeah, it was awful.
Joe Van Wie 36:33
I remember talking to you and I could see it in your eyes, that you were just fine. Like, yeah, it's a nightmare bag of bricks. You came around. Do I pretend I'm sober. I don't want to scare people.
Sure. Sure. You know, and it started with the, you know, a couple of drinks. And then, you know, we had a night we had a crew there, right? We had a crew there. And then other things, you know, came along, but at the end of my addiction, it was you know, it was I was in hell, I was in hell, you know, and it was on my was my birthday. My first stint in rehab, you know, I was just got done with a busy night. And I was in the bathroom doing what I was doing at the time. You know, and I came out and somebody handed me the phone here. Father's on the phone, right? It's my birthday. And hey, Baba, you don't want to Nick Why don't you come home? Right? Well, I want to come home. I want to talk to you. All right. Well, my dad never caught man. Right? It's my birthday. Maybe they're gonna have to leave a cake for me. Celebrated right and, and boy, was I wrong? You know? Sure. Shit. That was my first intervention came, you know, I came home to a good friend of mine, Billy and my father and my mother was right behind me. And she walked in right after and, you know, and that was the first you know, that was my first note that it was really, you know, it was addressed and whatnot. But you know, I was doing things then like my addiction led me to, you know, to, I wasn't just drinking or just Yeah, it'll call here or there. I was doing it all. So I you know, I?
Joe Van Wie 38:00
Yeah, I was really scared. Yeah, I was. I was sober at that time, a period of sobriety. I had a lot of fear for you. Yeah. Because I didn't. You weren't? You wouldn't even let me talk to you. Yeah, that's what we're trying to bring up.
So many people did try it. Yeah. And, you know, if you're trying to then I shut you out, and I didn't really want
Joe Van Wie 38:21
to do it either. I loved it. Man, this is hard to talk about. Yeah, we're not budging any sharper. So you get to confront that treatment and took a couple of times, like, like me, and you and your dad's pretty semi retired at this time. At this time. He is like carrying a lot of guilt at this time. Why can't I just did you ever consider like, why can't I just drink?
Short? Yeah. Oh, no, it's absolutely and that's how, you know, and, you know, the first time I you know, after my first rehab, I got out and, you know, I went because I couldn't stop shooting heroin. Right. I could not stop doing that. And so I thought maybe if I can stop that, and you know, successfully, then maybe at some point, I could just drink. Yeah, you know, and I, you know, it was about five and a half, six months, I went with, you know, without any without doing anything. I couldn't, you know, go to meetings here. There. We were down in Florida to go Yeah. Well, no, not not there. No. And, you know, so then I thought maybe I could just drink and you know, and I was wrong. Yeah. They talk about the progression of the disease and I witnessed it firsthand.
Joe Van Wie 39:41
It doesn't take long I don't know if you could relate to this experience like drinking alone, especially after you get this huge release of dopamine from cocaine. More then you start to get the your needs met through an opioid addiction comfort of that. You strip that Wait, you're gonna have a baseline of alcohol and I'm we're alcoholics. Yes. It sucks because of how much a you have to drink. It's punishing hangovers, unlike some drugs you might enjoy outside of alcohol, but alcohol is common. And at least still more accept acceptable by society. Yeah, how much I'd have to drink and think this is what I want to keep in my life. It's a nightmare. And I can't get drunk in any way that's recognizable to those other two highs and I'm not even getting can't even come close. Yeah, man. It's so that it's a real shitty venture to try to just drink yourself into away from drugs. Yeah. It's like, it's failed from the start, but it makes so much sense, I think to a lot alcoholics. sure at
the time. Yeah, yeah, definitely. Definitely.
Joe Van Wie 40:51
So how did you finally how does this ship lamb because it was a real crisis. I, you were, it was,
yeah, so I was in and out, you know, like, I went to Clearbrook, twice, you know, about 11 or 12 years ago, and like, eight years ago, and both times were, you know, more because of you. I mean, I'm an alcoholic, I love to drink, you know, but then with that comes the cocaine and then, you know, the last few times, then then the opiates came in. And that was what always brought me to my knees. You know, and, you know, my, my last treatment I was, you know, I went down to Father Martins. Ashley Yeah, right. And, you know, from the time of my last relapse to the last amount of treatment, there was there was like, a good five years there, you know, I was out for like, five years ripping and roaring, you know, just running. And, you know, in that time, I caused a lot of destruction, I caused a lot of pain, you know, for my family for my friends. I really, you know, I isolated you know, all my like real true highschool friends, I kind of wanted nothing, not to say I didn't want anything to do with them, but I couldn't relate to them. They're all it's, you know, at this time, we're in our early 30s They're all married kids working everything. And here I am, you know, waking up at, you know, 10 o'clock, 11 o'clock in the morning going right to the glass on yon to have a couple Bloody Marys and then go into the restaurant and have my eight ball in the mailbox waiting for him. Yeah. And, and, and just continued, you know, for years, for years. You know? And, you know, so then I finally, you know, I kind of just, you know, so I got married, yeah, right. And, you know, to a great girl, and she, you know, as an alcoholic, I'm, you know, we're great manipulators, you know, and so I, we didn't live together or anything, and we finally you know, right after, you know, we got married when our honeymoon came back, we live together, you know, and she didn't, you know, gotta know. Yeah, you know, and I thought, you know, maybe this is what I need. And not to say I was pressured by any means. But, you know, like, people say this to you good girl, like doesn't She's a great girl, you know, so this is, this is what will cheer you
Joe Van Wie 43:15
or restaurant will help gription get married.
You know, and, you know, six months into it. She said, Holy shit, you know, this isn't what I signed up for, you know, so either get some help, or I'm out of here. You know? And you know, before that there were times I knew I was coming to an end and me and my good friend Alyssa who who works at the restaurant with me, you know, we're the bestest friends and she said, You know, before he actually went, you would talk about did you get hints about it? Like, I know, I have to, you know, I know I have to do something.
Joe Van Wie 43:48
Well, it seems like you know, to to anyone. Listen, you were functional to go to work, but I rushed in late stage addiction. Absolutely. Health, you getting pneumonia. Often I
was getting pneumonia. I ended up in the ICU twice. You know, when I went into treatment, I was maxed out. I was I was 50 pounds heavier. I was maxed out on two different blood pressure medicines. I used to have to get an abdominal ultrasound response. 33 Yeah. You know, I was at the end of the line. For sure
Joe Van Wie 44:22
if making the rest this life
Unknown Speaker 44:26
a lot of fun. It was good. You know.
Joe Van Wie 44:29
Father, Ashley Martin still the last place every member that
Yes. That was that was stop. So you know, I knew something had to be done. It's a funny story. I my mother it was so my sober date. I went in March 29. Right. So a couple of days prior to that my mom was on her way to work. It was I think it was Holy Thursday and she was gone. Now. We live a couple doors up from Immaculate Conception Church and our good friend father McLaughlin, right so she was driving past the church. She had to go to work and she saw McLaughlin and she almost took the right so she didn't have to see him. But she tells the surgeon, you know, something just compelled me to stop and talk to him. And she did. And, you know, the second he came over to the car, he said, What's the matter, tabby? What's the matter? Is it Russell and she broke down and she was crying. She said, Yeah, it is, you know, and, you know, I'm afraid he's gonna die. You know, I'm afraid he's gonna die. And I know he wants to get help. And he suggested Father Martin's Ashley, and how he put it he said, you know, Russell goes to your how many times it was directly or Brocard a few times right and up there, you know, I Clearbrook I was Russell Perino. Right and I was, you know, sure, I got to I remember I would, my name would come over the loudspeaker and all these people, Russell, bring it on, please come to the office thinking I was getting in trouble. I'd come in, there'd be an antipasto laid out pizza, right. Everybody's eat and like this shit food at Clearbrook. I'm in their pocket personally. Also, Prasad from daumas, right. He was on the phone, like, you know, so he's how he put it was, you know? Clearbrook he's Russell Perino. You go down to Father Martin's Ashley in the preset, he's just going to be another fucking drunk from Scranton, you know, and that's what I was. So I, my mom told me about this place. And I did I took it upon myself. I called. I called. So that was Thursday. So you know, that was Holy Thursday, Friday, by by Monday, I was there.
Joe Van Wie 46:27
Was this the first time you made the call to get? Yes, absolutely. It was. Yeah, that was
the that was the first time you know, because I know. I know. You know. And so I, me and my mom got in the car on a Monday morning with a bottle of vodka, a pocket full of everything. And we go we stopped at the cemetery, on our way there to say hi to my dad, I am Peggy and and we went down. Yeah, you know.
Joe Van Wie 46:56
Yeah, that was that was profound. Because you were that was probably how many years
ago? So that was, you know, so I'm sober. Five and God willing, six years, this March 6 years this March, you know, it'll be
Joe Van Wie 47:10
Wow, yeah. what did this do? You? Did you how long was that? That treatment, that
treatment. So that treatment was it was a 28 day, 20 days. However, you know, something happened to me when I was down there that really, you know, we always talk about God granting us that gift of desperation. Right. And I truly believe, you know, my higher power did to me, you know, I was down there it was, you know, a couple days went by I was in detox and you know, I started feeling a little better and whatnot. And then all of a sudden, you know, it'd be walking around. And now here Father Martin's, Ashley is beautiful, right on the Chesapeake Bay Harbor, Degrace, Maryland, dry and just a beautiful, beautiful facility. And I'm outside and I'm walking around and I'm like, Wow, I'm talking to my friends on my T shirt. They're playing the Grateful Dead. This is awesome. Like, this is like, how do they know this is such a cool place. And I'm like, What are you talking? I'm like, you don't hear that right? So now these like auditory hallucinations are starting to calm man, right? And I'm like, okay, whatever, you know. So a day goes by.
Unknown Speaker 48:19
Oh, will get by right touching Gray's blast. And I'm looking awesome. The Grapevine radio I got
so on my sixth day there, you know, I ended up taking a full psychotic break. I was hospitalized. They had to call the ambulance for me. I was taken out of father mountains. Ashley, I was brought to hospital I was, you know, convulsing was taking the seizures. I was completely out of solution. ating, I was out of my mind. My poor mother, you know, they had to call her and tell her what was going on. And you know, when I wasn't sure, then like, I didn't know if I was going to live or die. Or, you know, the scary thing for me was not living or dying. But what was actually living. And this was a constant. I remember at one point, calling her and telling her mom, you might have to call father Sica, you're gonna have to call father seek and see the best place the University of Pennsylvania or something for a psychiatric place for me, because I don't think I'm ever going to come out of this, like, this is what I had was, you know, so I was I was in the hospital for four days, I was I spent the day down in the emergency room. And from the emergency room, they took me up to the psych ward put me on a 72 hour hold up there. And, you know, that was the and I'll say that, you know, in my story when I speak it was it was the first honest prayer the first real prayer when those doors behind me when those doors closed behind me in that psych ward, right. And there was a there was an armed guard at the door, right? And I remember just saying, Please, God help me, like please, God help me. And, and, you know,
Joe Van Wie 49:54
that's an act of humility. However, anyone unpacks the word God but yeah, to not be able to ask yourself for help or think you have any control over your well being your mind. So Ross was that psychosis from withdrawal? It
was Yeah, yeah. So they explained it to me. No, I was going through the DTS it was severe GTS from the alcohol, you know, and at this point, I was coming off of alcohol, cocaine, opiates, Xanax, but the big thing they said the Xanax the benzos, the benzos in the alcohol, it's, you know, psychosis. Yeah, yeah. You know, oh, God,
Joe Van Wie 50:31
it's terrifying. Yeah. But that experience is what branded this catapulted.
You had experience, I left there, and I left they picked me up, somebody from the treatment center picked me up and brought me there. And I could, I could kind of say, like, alright, so when I was in Italy, right, I went to Italy to this culinary school, right? And I was never Alright, so high school college. Like I was a decent student, but I was never too excited for things. I wasn't right. But when I got to culinary school, right, and I was in Florence. I was that kid in the front of the class raising my hand for everything like the stars, right? So this was kind of like the feeling of when I got back to treatment. I was like, You know what, this is it like I have to do it was a live or die kind of thing for me. But I was like that little I was like that student that excited student back you know and and, and I did and I participated and I paid attention group your passion woke up, Mike. Yeah, my passion to live. Yeah, you know, my passion to live really?
Joe Van Wie 51:31
Yeah, there's a history in that. And that's the good side of romance that we're talking about. That's not the allure of addiction or just this, you know, indulgent life at night. Yeah. The passion of cooking. Create the creativity that comes behind that. Absolutely. And what other gracious thing can you do for a human except serve them a meal? I mean, what's more communal than that? I can't think of an hour now. To take, you know, the brutality of what we do to survive, we eat life, and you dress it up in a way that's elegant. I didn't really I didn't have to kill this cow. But But Ross decorated it where it looks like, you know,
peppercorn crusts like
Joe Van Wie 52:15
Monet glaze on there with the peppercorn. So that woke up your passion, that passion returned to you. And sobriety, like that idea of Florence return into your
debt. Yah, yah, yah, my passion totally, you know, towards the end of my addiction, you know, I remember one of the last things my mother telling me was, you know, I, I want to leave on a good note, she's a Bobby right, she calls me, Bobby. Bobby, I want to leave on a good note. Look, you're so she was really, you know, whether she was serious or not, she was talking about selling the restaurant and all this is a restaurant that, you know, there was Russell's was there for 30 years, the pre, you know, whole tradition was, you know, we're coming on in two years, you know, in 2023 will be open for 100 years in our family, you know, and, you know, and when I got back, it was like, you know, what, I don't want it to end with me. I don't want it to end with me, you know, so I got this passion back. And, you know, I got into the kitchen. And, you know, I started a whole new, you know, like a healthier lifestyle where, you know, before so you said before, you know, I was functioning you know, and I did surviving, I was five, you know, I did the bare minimum I was at work at two o'clock, three o'clock on a bed and I was really, you know, drunk high, whatever, did what I had to do, just to the bare minimum. And that was that and you know, and today it's, you know, I have a great routine. I wake up every morning 740 Before I get out of bed, I say my prayers, restaurant guy 747 40 I'm off no matter what time I get to bed. The night before I mop, right? I say a quick couple prayers. And I'm at my meeting by quarter to nine in the
Joe Van Wie 53:57
meeting you attend every morning. Just I just want to make this distinction. It has meditation.
It does that as a five minute meditation, which I absolutely, yeah, so my home group is peace and serenity. It's on the corner of ash Street and Taylor Avenue. We meet every Monday through Friday at 9am Saturdays at 11. And then on Sundays, we have a nioc meeting which it started at the restaurant, started I during COVID I was able to myself and my sponsor, you know, he was a little nervous about getting, you know, large groups of people together. And you know, it was springtime. So we have this beautiful patio at the restaurant. We said let's get a group of us, you know yourself and there was you know, eight or 10 of us that we would just sit around do and
Joe Van Wie 54:43
what's needed during the pandemic. A lot of patients Yeah, it was important to a lot of
people it was it was such a it was a such a beautiful moment like some morning so so it started with like eight to 10 people right and that was maybe a month or two but I remember fucking Paul In the restaurant that one morning, there was like 30 cars, there was like 30 people gonna go inside bring all these chairs out and everything and, and sitting in my parking lot on the patio right at at nine o'clock on a Sunday morning after just getting my ass kicked Saturday night few hours ago, right getting destroyed, coming down there then and be able to sit in the parking lot with that sun shining, and those birds chirping and reflecting like I remember used to be leaving the restaurant at this time, with that sun shining being like this. And those birds chirping I wanted to shoot them Yeah, right, leaving the restaurant at that time and being able to come in then and see this group of people who I love, you know, be able to such a such an amazing, you know, such an amazing thing to be able to get to do and to be a part of,
Joe Van Wie 55:49
I just want to be clear on what it is you actually did there. I mean, during the pandemic, a lot of meetings, lost their locations, and they're close. And for anyone who doesn't understand alcoholism, especially in recovery. We're pack animals. There's this massive social element to this disorder, to not be around like minded people that are recognizing a problem of addiction, and that there's a prior condition to it. We need to be around each other on judgmentally. That void going there helped me my anxiety was through the roof. And then when you open that go up there for that hour. I knew everyone understood. You're not crazy. Joe, you're just you're just one of us. And that was very important for a lot of a lot of people didn't have that that meet New Jersey. Yeah, they were suffering Sure. Isolate. It wasn't easy for them to come back to meeting. It did not see that in Scranton. To the degree I've heard of in New Jersey, New York. Yeah, it was it was devastating for a lot of
Well, we I mean, we do we have such such a strong recovery community in Scranton, you know, and, you know, I said my home group is peace and friendship group and a good friend of mine, Joe, Joe G. And a group of other people actually kept our meeting, our meeting never stopped at a meeting and there was some, you know, there was some blowback on it, you know, we're being irresponsible and whatever. But I'll tell you what, the person that was getting out of treatment during COVID and had nowhere to go and they actually had somewhere to go. It was huge. Like that's what I love about our meeting. Now there are so many people so do the math, there are so many people that are celebrating like a year now two years that were from them from from the pandemic and from because a group of people had, you know, at the ball. So here well, you know what, we have to be here and they did and when I was
Joe Van Wie 57:45
free, cognizant, these people knew fentanyl would kill them in two days. That's the immediate fire to put out. I think they did a beautiful they did. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I've come to understand that in a whole new way. And I was glad that that was there. Yeah. Zoom, zoom, but zoom. Yeah, you know, to depart from a two dimensional screen, I need to see people's eyes
selection. And let me tell you a zoom. Those zoom meetings helped me out tremendously in the beginning, you know, because so peace and serenity did stay open. But there was a there was a period of time that I didn't go and just because you know, at the time, my grandmother was there I was with my grandma who was in age and stage of COPD was with every day. So I was being a little more cautious. And so I did go on. You know, I jumped on Zoom. And there was a period of time where there was two weeks, I had a quarantine. I had a quarantine, you know, and I had and I was I was so so full of fear and anxiety, the anxiety like holy shit for two because I'm a person I'm up in the morning and I'm out of the house and I don't stop and to have to be quarantined, and not like I didn't know what I was going to do. I was jumping on two, three, sometimes four zoom meetings a day just to get me through and it did. It helped me tremendously, but not like, you know, an in person meeting where you get to, you know, see the person talk to the person.
Joe Van Wie 59:07
Well, I know watching zoom work, it kept us over. Absolutely. Without a doubt. Without a doubt. It really regulated my anxiety. You know, my wife's not alcoholic and my alcoholic kind of impulsivity, anxiousness imagined fears. I wasn't. I needed a place to ground and feel stoic. That meeting helped me tremendously so I can keep my head tighter. Known wasn't. So for generation restaurant, your dad got sober. Moms you not die. That whole path being paved. You save the legacy of keeping the restaurant. revamping adding new style to the menu and the board. Yeah. That's a pretty beautiful story. And it's you know, whether someone understands that You know, that was AAA or na these 12 Step communities. Scranton is really behind that. It's not what just binds us as people. So joining a community that's practicing the same thing. saved all of that. Would you say
it that? It said? Absolutely.
Joe Van Wie 1:00:18
Wow. Will you come back for an any pasta especially
bring? What can I bring Persia a little
Joe Van Wie 1:00:29
trophy? Oh my gosh, it took me two years to say. Team. Quatro. Well, Ross, I think that brings us to an hour today. I'd love to have you back on Yeah. 58 minutes and 34 seconds. The chair didn't bros counting where he was here last week and the chair broke. Yeah.
And I heard that and didn't miss a beat now. He
Joe Van Wie 1:00:52
kept talking. Sure. Right up. Well, anything else you'd like to say?
I just want to thank you, Joe.
Joe Van Wie 1:01:01
Thank you, man. Thank you. I'm glad to came on. And I think people can understand that there's a lot of fiber in that story. I wanted to I wanted to talk to you about that today.
I'm glad I was able to. Thanks, brother. Thanks.
Joe Van Wie 1:01:22
I'd like to thank you for listening to another episode of all better. You can find us on all better.fm or listen to us on Apple podcasts. Spotify, Google podcasts, Stitcher, I Heart Radio, and Alexa. Special thanks to our producer John Edwards, an engineering company 570. Drone. Please like or subscribe to us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. And if you're not on social media, you're awesome. Looking forward to seeing you again. And remember, just because you're sober doesn't mean you're right.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai