Joe Picarelli, the Italian immigrant whose food and hospitality has been a staple of the Long Beach culinary scene for decades, passed of a heart attack at the age of 65 on Sunday, March 22.
“He was a great man, brother and restaurateur,” said Councilmember Suzie Price. “He will be greatly missed, but will be remembered often, and never forgotten. We are so thankful to him for his impact, influence and his love of community.”
Joe, his three brothers and parents, emigrated from Roggiano-Graviana in Calabria, Italy to the United States in 1966 after the financial collapse in their motherland left them no choice.
“In fact, this past year, in July, we all returned to Italy together for the first time since 1966 for a wedding,” said younger brother Dominic. “It was as splendid as it was timely—Joe had had six stents in his heart by that point.”
By 1974, Joe’s parents Mario and Maria acquired Cirivello’s—the deli founded by another Italian, Joe Cirivello, of Chicago—and it was then that Joe decided college wasn’t the route for him, instead, he chose to focus on food and hospitality. Within a few years, the Picarellis were operating six various deli-restaurant spaces, including one near Long Beach City College on Viking Way that became one of the most popular sports bars/restaurants in the area.
Of course, Joe had a sense of pride in himself and family, so much so that he felt the family name warranted its own space. The original Picarelli’s opened on Anaheim Street in 2000 and, four years later, moved into the space on Clark Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway, currently occupied by the Crooked Duck. Fearing there was not enough seating, in 2013, he moved Picarelli’s to the corner of Loynes Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway, just north of Marina Pacifica.
Amid mandates surrounding large gatherings due to the coronavirus, the family will be unable to host a large memorial for Joe.
“We will have a small service at the All Souls cemetery soon—probably the three brothers and spouses would only attend,” Dominic said. “We will have another memorial once larger gatherings are allowed.”
As for what will happen with Picarelli’s restaurant remains unclear since Joe and the restaurant were seen as pretty much one and the same in the community. His life was serving people food day in and day out, right up until he died.
“It’s funny we returned to Italy for a wedding because Joe never married, never had kids,” Dominic said. “Joe lived his life his own way—and he held court every night in that restaurant. Every night.”
Joe is survived by his three brothers, Frank, Dominic, and Angelo; eight nieces and nephews; five great nieces and nephews and dozens of cousins around the world.
“It is the end of an era for our family and Long Beach,” Dominic said. “Joe was one of many great restaurateurs through the decades. I am not sure if there is another Joe that will carry the torch.”