Mario’s in Ocean City reopens 17 months after Sandy

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Claire Lowe / Co-owners and brothers Giuseppe and Ernesto Cannuscio of Linwood stand outside Mario’s at 1510 Bay Avenue moments before officially re-opening Thursday, March 27, 17 months after sustaining damage from Hurricane Sandy. Claire Lowe / Co-owners and brothers Giuseppe and Ernesto Cannuscio of Linwood stand outside Mario’s at 1510 Bay Avenue moments before officially re-opening Thursday, March 27, 17 months after sustaining damage from Hurricane Sandy.

OCEAN CITY —After 17 months of repairs and renovations, brothers Giuseppe and Ernesto Cannuscio welcomed back employees and customers Thursday, March 27 to their Bay Avenue pizzeria, which has been closed since Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

On Thursday, members of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce helped celebrate the occasion with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The festivities marked the end of a long journey back for the Cannuscio family.

The Cannuscios, of Linwood, have operated Mario’s Restaurant and Pizzeria at 1510 Bay Ave. for 30 years, and have been in business for the last 35 years.

For Christine Cannuscio, the wife of Ernesto Cannuscio, Thursday was all about the aroma.

“Oh man, does that smell good,” she said of the smell coming from the grill and ovens as they began churning out everything from pizza to cheesesteaks to plates of spaghetti and meatballs.

Since Sandy, the Cannuscio family has been cleaning, scrubbing and rebuilding.

“We’re back in business, and it feels so good,” Christine Cannuscio said. “We opened, and for once it smelled like food cooking, and not cleaning supplies and saw dust. We’re all so happy and excited! All I can say is, ‘We’re open, c’mon on and please, bring your appetite!’”

She said the journey has been a struggle.

“Sandy took us out,” she said. “We tried to get back on our feet, but it was a long process.”

The new Mario’s is decidedly lighter and airier than the restaurant it replaced, with bright green walls and big, open windows, but Cannuscio said the old fashioned charm that made the original so popular remains. The booths are gone in favor of tables and chairs. It’s an informal, very casual eatery known for good food and friendly service, she said.

“It’s the same layout, same traditional Italian dinners,” she said. “People feel comfortable here. It was homey and warm before and it’s homey and warm now. It’s not Tuscany, it’s comfy and inviting.”

The family restaurant welcomes one and all, from people on their way to or from the boardwalk or a movie to families on their way home from the beach, Cannuscio said.

“We’re all about bringing children. It’s about families at Mario’s,” she said. “People enjoy the children. It’s just like the neighborhood pizzeria. It’s who we are, a restaurant with Sicilian owners.”

It all began with the original neighborhood pizzeria in Minersville, Pa. in 1973, which was opened by her husband’s parents, Mario and Antonina Cannuscio.

“My mother- and father-in-law opened it, using family recipes,” Cannuscio said.

With a slew of family members living in Ocean City at the time, the elder Cannuscios expanded to the shore, opening Mario’s in what was then the Palmer Shopping Center around the corner on 16th Street in 1977.

The pizzeria and restaurant was a big hit. A few years later, they moved to their current location.

“Up until the night of the hurricane, not a single drop of water ever came in here,” Cannuscio said. “No matter how bad the weather, no matter how bad the storm, we did not get flooded.”

The family was off the island during the hurricane, but they received constant updates.

“The first high tide, we were good,” she said. “The neighbors told us we were good, so we weren’t really worried.”

They stayed tuned to social media, however, and as the high tide rose again, they saw the tell-tale pictures: The family business was under water.

“It got us. We saw the devastation on the Internet,” she said.

Cannuscio said it was heartbreaking.

“We couldn’t get back on the island for a while,” she said.

When they were able to return, they went right to work. The restaurant, which took in water from all directions, was destroyed. Still, they had hope.

“We started cleaning, started the demolition,” Cannuscio said.

The water was no obstacle compared to dealing with insurance companies, she said.

“Until you go through the process, you can’t understand,” she said. “You have to live it to understand.”

Cannuscio said she used to watch television reports of catastrophic storms, such as Hurricane Katrina or a tornado, and wonder what it would be like.
“We were living it,” she said.

With the business out of commission, the family’s income dried up.

“We were fortunate, we had a lot of family helping us here,” Cannuscio said.

She and her sister-in-law, Mirella, Giuseppe’s wife, worked with their children to get the job done.

“My daughters were scrubbing on their hands and knees,” she said. “We had to hang tough, and we did. It’s hard to understand, until it happens to you.”   

“It’s just one night, and your life changes,” she said. “We just never expected that it would take us this long.

“We couldn’t just rebuild. We had to bring the building up to code.”

Cannuscio said the neighborhood around 15th and Bay was hit particularly hard.

“We had a lot of neighbors in the same situation,” she said. “Some of them are still not in their homes. It doesn’t look so bad on the outside, but inside their lives are destroyed. It’s hard when you can’t be in your home. Everyone has to do the best they can.

“We had some obstacles and we overcame them,” she said. “We’ve been part of the community for such a long time. We know some people worried about us, because it has been so long, but we made it, we’re back!”

Mario’s is open seven days a week. Call 398-0490.

Cannuscio of Linwood are happy to be back in business in Ocean City. Cannuscio of Linwood are happy to be back in business in Ocean City.

Claire Lowe / James Larcombe of Ocean City, a five-year employee of Mario’s, stretches the dough to make a pizza. Claire Lowe / James Larcombe of Ocean City, a five-year employee of Mario’s, stretches the dough to make a pizza.

Claire Lowe / The dining room at Mario’s in Ocean City is completely renovated and features bright green walls. Claire Lowe / The dining room at Mario’s in Ocean City is completely renovated and features bright green walls.

Claire Lowe / Chef Robert Cannuscio of Linwood, son of co-owner Giuseppe Cannuscio, pulls a freshly baked pizza from the oven. Claire Lowe / Chef Robert Cannuscio of Linwood, son of co-owner Giuseppe Cannuscio, pulls a freshly baked pizza from the oven.

Claire Lowe / Chef Robert Cannuscio of Linwood, son of co-owner Giuseppe Cannuscio, pulls a freshly baked pizza from the oven. Claire Lowe / Chef Robert Cannuscio of Linwood, son of co-owner Giuseppe Cannuscio, pulls a freshly baked pizza from the oven.

Claire Lowe / Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Second Vice President Scott Halliday, at left, and executive director Michele Gillian, at right, along with Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian, second from left, gather with the Cannuscio family to cut the ribbon commemorating the re-opening March 27 in front of Mario’s on Bay Avenue. Claire Lowe / Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Second Vice President Scott Halliday, at left, and executive director Michele Gillian, at right, along with Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian, second from left, gather with the Cannuscio family to cut the ribbon commemorating the re-opening March 27 in front of Mario’s on Bay Avenue.


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