Tuesday
Dec272011

The Fascinating History of Carbone's Restaurant


Carbone's is a Crabtree institution that has been attracting hungry diners from all over Western Pennsylvania for over seven decades to their Italian restaurant.

Although Carbone's patrons come for the outstanding homemade sauce, pizza, and pasta, the restaurant has a long, fascinating history that dates back to the 1930's when Crabtree was a booming coal town with mines and banks of coke ovens that lit up the night sky with a red glow. The first Carbone to settle in Crabtree, Natale - so named because he was born on Christmas Day, immigrated to the United States in the 1880's and found work in the mines at Crabtree. The hardworking miners found it difficult to get to town for a proper haircut and a shave. Since Natale had brought good scissors from Italy, he started trimming his own hair. When his buddies saw what a good job he did, they prevailed upon him to cut their hair. It wasn't long before he quit mining and became a full-time barber.

Nat Sr. came to the Untied States to create a home for his family.  After working for a few years, Nat Sr. saved enough money to return to Italy to bring his wife Maria Grazie di Giralamo to the home he created in Crabtree.  Over the next sixteen years, Nat Sr. and Maria had eleven children.  Their seventh child, Nat Jr. became a barber like three of his brothers.  In 1927, Nat Jr. married Mary E. Skodak.  After hearing from his brother Carmen (Charlie) of a barber position available at the Fort Monmouth Army Base, and wanting to start their own life together, Nat and Mary moved to Long Branch, New Jersey.  They lived for a short time in New Jersey, where daughter Natalie was born in 1928.  After receiving word that Mary's mother was ill, they returned to Crabtree.

Once back in Crabtree, Nat Jr. joined his father and brothers at the family barber shop.  Daughter Rosalie was born in 1930, followed by son Natale III in 1934.

The Great Depression hit the village hard, and the Jamison Mines and the coke plant closed. When the mine shut down, the Jamison family put their company owned buildings up for sale.  A "company house" could be purchased for $200!  In 1936,  Nat Jr. and Mary purchased the big frame community building. The upstairs recreation room had been used for band practice, roller skating, and dances.  Downstairs was a confectionary store, barber shop, and bowling alleys.  Nat and Mary fixed an apartment upstairs  and kept the barber shop downstairs, but the bowling alleys had to be dismantled after one of the many floods that plague Crabtree.  Soon after opening, at the request of the pool players she started making sandwiches and homemade soups. The food items proved to be a real boon with hungry people lining up every day for her specialties.  Realizing the popularity of their homemade dishes, in 1938 Nat Jr. got the idea of applying for a liquor license and opening a beer hall since prohibition had ended. Mary refused to have any part in a beer hall. She told him, "Nat, do you want a business partner or a wife?" He cancelled the license, but the next day decided to go ahead. The "yes/no" vacillation went on three times, until the license clerk told Nat to talk it over again with his wife. If it was okay with her, he could receive a license. Mary finally agreed with the proviso, "A restaurant - yes! A beer-hall, no!!! And it must be a restaurant where you can bring your family." Thus began the concept of a family-owned, family-operated, family-oriented, and family-friendly restaurant, our business philosophy that remains today. 

Nat was the bartender, while Mary was in charge of the kitchen. As their children grew up, they all worked in the restaurant from the time they were tall enough to stand at the sink and wash dishes.

Our first dining room had a seating capacity for 30 people.  Because of the growing popularity of Mary's dishes the pool room was converted into another dining room with a capacity to seat 85 more hungry diners.  Soon the bar was moved, which made room for an additional 30 patrons.  The business grew and so we had to add to the menu.  The War came and we were booked solid with parties for going-away servicemen.  In no time we outgrew the downstairs.  So we bought the house next door and moved in.  The living area of the second floor of the restaurant  was converted into a bar and lounge area and another dining room  seating 205.  

Carbone's patrons quickly spread the word of the delicious, homemade food available in the little village of Crabtree.  It did not take long after opening for word to spread throughout Western Pennsylvania.  Soon hungry families began to arrive from Connellsville , Greensburg, Latrobe, Ligonier, Blairsville, and even Pittsburgh. One of the regulars in those early years was Frank Fox from Greensburg. He loved Carbone's steaks, but his teeth made chewing even the tenderest steak a problem. Mary served him Italian spaghetti, which he had never eaten before and he loved it. Mary made her own red sauce for the spaghetti and lasagna, and that same prized recipe has been passed down from generation to generation and remains a staple today.  Although the ingredients for the tomato sauce are secret, the family admits it takes patience to make, for a good sauce cannot be rushed. Over the years other specialty sauces have been added to the menu, including marinara, olio aglio, Caruso, tuna, lobster, pepperoni, clam, and puttanesca.

Amazingly, seating for 350 was still not enough!

 In 1973, after numerous stints of remodeling, the family decided the restaurant had outgrown the original building, so work was begun on constructing a new Carbone's. Family friend Lou Pevarnik of Pevarnik Brothers worked closely with the  Carbone family to build a facility that would best meet the needs of the popular restaurant. On Saturday night, May 27th, the family closed the old restaurant, and on the following Monday, without missing a beat, opened again next door in their brand new building, which at 12,000 sq. ft. doubled the size of the old Carbone's, making it the largest Italian restaurant in Western Pennsylvania. The restaurant, including the banquet room, seats 600. The opening night was a bit confusing as the staff was still erecting tables and stacking dishes and linens as the first customers arrived, but the handsome stone and brick one-story building with stained glass windows offers a roomy, comfortable Mediterranean decor that is perfect for an Italian restaurant.

At the end of 2005, Natale III, nicknamed "Buz", sold his interest in the restaurant to his sister Natalie and her family.  

Today, managing the restaurant is Natalie Mangini, a retired nuclear chemist, who helped design the "Nautilus", the world's first atomic submarine. She is aided by her daughter, "Little Natalie", a Culinary Institute of America (CIA) graduate, who supervises food preparation, an area formerly lovingly presided over by Aunt Rosalie, who passed away in 1979. In the family tradition, Rosalie's daughter, Angel Isenberg, is the setup chef and continues to make Angel Pie, a dessert her mother created and named for her. (The taste is as heavenly as the name.) The restaurant's founder, Nat, died in 1981, while his beloved wife Mary continued keeping a close eye on the food preparation until her death in 1993.

Natalie Mangini's son Vince packages and sells Carbone's famous Spaghetti Sauce and their special salad dressing, gnocchi and garlic bread.

During its nearly eight decades in the restaurant business, Carbone's of Crabtree has an amazing number of 'firsts' deserving of recognition:

  • first restaurant to serve Rolling Rock beer on draft continuously since the Latrobe Brewery first produced the famous local beer.
  • With the outbreak of World War II, the restaurant served many local defense workers. Because of this, the restaurant was given a priority rating for a stone hearth oven, thus Nat and Mary served the first stone hearth pizza in the area. Today, pizza is an institution at Carbone's, but when Mary first added it to the menu in the early 1940's, it was then called Italian Tomato Pie.
  • first restaurant to install a Raytheon Radar Range, now popularly known as a microwave oven. When Nat and Mary bought the new oven at a trade show, only three had been manufactured. Amazingly, Raytheon sent a trained chef to Crabtree who lived for six months at the old Penn Albert Hotel in Greensburg, and demonstrated the many ways the range could be used. Carbone's also purchased a radar dishwasher, but it was never delivered. One rumor said that the soap companies killed the idea. 
  • first restaurant to install DenzilonTM carpeting throughout the whole building. This was the first of the miracle "man-made" fibers on the market.
  • first restaurant to install an IBM digital computer to supply orders to the kitchen and prepare customer checks.
  • first wait staff "Call System" in Pennsylvania, assembled by an engineer from Clarion University for the kitchen to notify waiters and waitresses that their orders are ready, or to alert the wait staff that their presence is required.

Carbone's, one of the largest Italian restaurants in Western Pennsylvania, continues the tradition of founders Nat and Mary Carbone by preparing the best and tastiest food served promptly and properly at moderate prices. The Carbone family works hard, and plans to keep their reputation for good food continuing for at least another seven decades. The Carbone Family has always considered their guests to be an extension of their family.  We thank all of you for your continued patronage.