John Savarese

Although John Savarese grew up and lived his life in nearby Bay Ridge, he has an endless supply of stories about Bensonhurst. For almost thirty years, John worked in Bensonhurst, delivering Wonder Bread to various storeowners, and in the process developed a bond with the neighborhood and the people who lived in it.

In our interview, John remembered the particular style, food, and general culture of the neighborhood, as it was when he worked there. He also remembered the mafia presence in Bensonhurst, a once-significant aspect of the neighborhood, and recalled his own close call: taking cover when two cars only a few feet Wonder_bread_logo_interstate_bakeries.svgfrom the entrance of the store he was leaving opened fire on one another. Despite this, John said that he never felt unsafe in Bensonhurst, just so long as he kept his “nose clean” and his “mouth shut,” and made a point of explaining that the mafia presence was only one part of what Bensonhurst really was as a neighborhood.

John said that his favorite aspect of the neighborhood was knowing all of the people who lived there, who he says were kind to him and grew to be like family to him, as he watched entire generations of families he delivered to grow up over time. Now, John said, he doesn’t understand the culture of the neighborhood the way he did before. He said that what appealed to him about Bensonhurst before it changed was the familiarity of it. An example of this is the food: “The food, I knew and I understood. Good food…You know, you’d go in John’s you’d get baked ziti and lasagna, I knew what that was, I knew it was the best there was,” he explained. “The chickens in the window might be great food, I don’t know, I just never had it.”

When asked what he thought the future of Bensonhurst would look like, John suggested that it might look a lot like Sunset Park, another neighborhood that was once filled predominantly with European immigrants, and is now considered Brooklyn’s Chinatown. “So [Bensonhurst will] probably look like that in the future, just a different wave of immigrants taking over a neighborhood. It’s just, that’s what New York is. A different wave of immigrants.”

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