When Nick Faraone arrived in Indian Rocks Beach in 1971 from Chicago, he saw the sunlit beaches and palm trees, people who never changed out of swimsuits, fisherman passing days on the dock. It was like Shangri-la. But one thing was missing.
Mr. Faraone was a hustler as a teenager — a kid who found ways to make money to support his family after his mom died. In 10th grade, he dropped out of school and sold bar supplies from a truck. He took his little brother, Rich, along every so often and Rich remembers that all the bartenders wanted to buy them shots at each stop.
"But he's got 50, 60 places," Rich, 62, recalled thinking. "Man, I can't drink like this."
Mr. Faraone had also grown up working in an Italian restaurant. His father once owned the famous Cubby Bear bar across from Wrigley Field. So when Mr. Faraone realized that Indian Rocks Beach lacked a decent Italian sub shop, he decided to open a restaurant.
What was practically a whim survived more than 40 years and became a local staple. Pajano's Pizza & Subs served customers such as Mr. Rogers from the children's show, famous baseball players like Tug McGraw and Pete Rose, and most importantly it fed three generations of locals.
Mr. Faraone of Largo died Nov. 23 after nearly a decade battling bladder cancer and various heart complications. He was 68.
Mr. Faraone had a voice like a tugboat horn and loved to joke with family and friends. One of the neighborhood kids who worked for him at the sub shop remembers one particularly embarrassing "Papa Nick" moment.
Terry Vangura, now 38, had a crush on a girl at church. When the girl walked in, Mr. Faraone held his meaty hand near his face like he was going to whisper; then belted out, "Hey, is that your girlfriend!"
When he wasn't joking with friends, Mr. Faraone was calling customers by the wrong name.
"But when he would call you by the wrong name, he would always use the same wrong name," said Monica Faraone, his wife of 36 years.
Monica, who met Mr. Faraone while working at the shop, said he instead chose to remember his customers by what sub they ordered.
Their most popular sub is called the House Steak — rib eye with grilled onions, mushrooms, peppers, mozzarella, oil, vinegar, mayo — and it also has its own Papa Nick story.
In the mid '70s, a bit of an Italian sub shop turf war broke out in Indian Rocks Beach. Mr. Faraone had moved his shop to its current location at 1305 Gulf Blvd. and another sub shop opened next door. The owner sold subs cheaper, and one day Mr. Faraone noticed a previously loyal customer walking toward his competitor.
"What you going over there for!" Mr. Faraone, a short man with shoe polish black hair, hollered from the front door.
The man explained that he liked mayonnaise and oil on his sub and a bunch of ingredients that Mr. Faraone found un-Chicagoan, his son Mike Faraone, 29, said.
Mr. Faraone pulled the man inside his shop and whipped up what is now the House Steak. He even temporarily named it after the man — "Mark's sub," which in keeping with Mr. Faraone's bad name recognition, might not have been his real name. The shop next door closed down some years later, and the owner still occasionally stops into Pajano's.
On a recent weekday, Mr. Faraone's two sons, Mike and Nick Jr., sat in Pajano's at a table and remembered their father. They could barely spit out a few sentences in between customers offering condolences and their own Papa Nick stories.
Weston Phippen can be reached at [email protected] or (727)893-8321