How The Rise Of The 6-Foot Hero Sandwich Spawned A Decades-Long Family Feud

Manganaro Grosseria and Hero boy sandwiches side by side
Manganaro Grosseria and Hero boy sandwiches side by side - Static Media / Shutterstock / Getty

Of all the feuds in the history of New York City's dining scene, the Manganaro family's story may be the most poignant. The Dell'Orto brothers — one-time owners of side-by-side restaurants in New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood — didn't speak to one another for more than three decades. At issue were the rights to the name of the 6-foot Hero-Boy sandwich their mother and uncle created and introduced together in 1955.

Originally conceived as a publicity stunt to boost business, the colossal Hero-Boy sandwich weighed in at 22 pounds and sold for $28.50 (about $285 in 2023 dollars). The HeroBoy was successful beyond the family's wildest dreams. At one point, the eldest Dell'Orto brother, Salvatore, was a guest on the old television quiz show "I've Got a Secret," challenging a panel of judges to guess his link to fame: the Hero-Boy.

In a perfect world, the stunning success of the HeroBoy would become the stuff of legend. Tales of the genesis of the giant sandwich that became a cornerstone of the family business would pass gleefully from generation to generation. Instead, ownership of the Hero-Boy name ignited a decades-long family feud. The Manganaro family was divided by much more than the single brick wall that separated the two side-by-side businesses. Here's the backstory.

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The Beginning Of The End

Manganaro Grosseria storefront circa 2007
Manganaro Grosseria storefront circa 2007 - Alan Turkus/Flickr

In 1893, Ernest Petrucci opened a deli and grocery store called Petrucci's Wines & Brandies. In 1920, ownership of the business passed to James Manganaro, who changed the name of the business to Manganaro's Grosseria. When James died in 1953, he left the enterprise to his sister, Nina Manganaro Dell'Orto, and his brother, Louis Manganaro. A couple of years later, the brother-sister team debuted the Hero-Boy. Their giant sandwich was so successful that, in 1956, the Manganaros expanded into vacant space adjacent to the Grosseria to open a dedicated sandwich shop. When Louis retired in 1962, Nina divvied up the business among her four sons. Two of them — Salvatore and Jimmy — eventually bought out the other brothers, leaving Salvatore in charge of the grosseria and Jimmy in charge of the sandwich shop.

Prior to Louis' retirement, the two side-by-side businesses had ostensibly operated as one entity. That changed when Salvatore and Jimmy took over. The two brothers kept each of the businesses running well into the 21st century and both continued marketing the Hero-Boy. This is where it gets sticky. Jimmy and Salvatore both claimed ownership of the Hero-Boy name. Even longtime Manganaro's customers were confused by the particulars. In 1969, Jimmy took it upon himself to trademark the sandwich name. Sal challenged the move, kickstarting a decades-long legal battle.

Gone But Not Forgotten

Hand lifting piece of huge hero sandwich
Hand lifting piece of huge hero sandwich - Daniel DeLucia/Shutterstock

After a drawn-out court battle that eventually reached the Manhattan Supreme Court, Jimmy won the legal squabble. According to The New York Times, the ruling resulted in Salvatore being charged $422,240 in damages. An out-of-court settlement was discussed that would have forgotten about the money in exchange for Salvatore shuttering his shop and giving all name rights over to Jimmy once and for all. However, negotiations fell through, according to The Wall Street Journal. Salvatore's business remained in operation for about a decade longer before he decided to sell the property to a third-party buyer.

While the legal battle between the brothers largely centered around the Hero-Boy name, there may have been other underlying issues. According to The New York Times, Salvatore said the rift first formed between him and his brother when Jimmy cashed checks meant for Salvatore's business. Salvatore claimed the confrontation was so heated that it led to fisticuffs. Jimmy disputed his version of events but conceded that this dispute marked the last time the brothers talked to one another outside of legal proceedings.

We may never know what really transpired between the two brothers, but we do know it caused a familiar rift that endured for decades. Manganaro's Grosseria changed hands and was turned into a restaurant known as Tavola in 2012. Manganaro's HeroBoy closed in 2021 due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Salvatore Dell'Orto died in 2013 at age 84. Jimmy died in 2022 at age 86.

Read the original article on Tasting Table.