I was saddened to hear of Jim's passing - Tribute to Jim Rapino 1927-2018
This article first ran December 2017
I had the pleasure of sitting down and having a chat with Jim Rapino, who come January 2018 turns 91. He spoke of a 16-year-old boy named Giuseppe who traveled to Canada with who is believed to be his uncle, Felice. No one is certain why Giuseppe left his homeland of Italy, but poverty was the driving force why most immigrated to North America between 1900-1914. It was most likely he intended, like many other Italians to earn enough money to return to Italy and purchase enough land to make a living for himself.
Giuseppe was born to Pietro and Francis (Gramerins) Rapino in the small town of Lanciano, Italy December 1897. Lanciano Italy, rich in History, known for the "Lanciano Miracle" and the birth home of Longinus, a Roman centurion who thrust his spear into the side of Jesus during his crucifixion. Lanciano in Italian means, "of the spear."
Giuseppe and Felice left the port of Napoli, Italy and arrived in North America aboard the ship Stampalia May 14, 1913. It is unclear how he come to live in Belleville, but an English Immigrant by the name of William Lancaster, his wife, Elizabeth and three children arrived from England this very same month. It just so happens, Giuseppe traveled with the Lancasters to Belleville and took up room and board with them at 15 Earl Street. Giuseppe would become a painter earning $20.00 a week and at this time changed his Italian name to Joseph. By the 1920's he was not only working as a painter by day but was attending night school to learn English. It was here he met the love of his life, Elsie Emily Savage. They would marry August 14, 1922, and have six children in total. Betty (Jack Schoffield) 1923-1996; Doris Myrna (Gordon Jewell) 1924-2001; Phyllis Elaine (Earl Presland) 1928-2005; Helen Irene 1932-1933; and two living children, James Rapino and Elsie Rapino Browning.
By the late 1920's the Rapinos would take up residence at 8 Bettes Street, where Joesph would do small repairs and sharpen blades in the living room of their home. As his family grew and the necessity to take care of a large family became apparent, by 1936
they moved to 8 Stone Street and opened Joe's Bicycle Repair at the upper north end of Front Street. By the 1940's he purchased the then Billiard Parlor at 364 Front Street from Sam Wannamaker and continued his repair business. Of note, as mentioned in conversation with Mr. Rapino, this Billiard Hall was a hot spot for illegal gambling and a favorite place for known locals such as Mel Barriage and Bucky Wood.
Through the 1940's and into the 1950's, the business evolved when Joe would first add a Pepsi vending machine. Than soon added chocolate bars and cigarettes. Then came a lunch counter with 6-8 stools and started selling sandwiches, coffee, milkshakes, sodas and alike. The once repair business became Joe's Lunch by the late 1940's. Trucks would line the street early in the morning, each getting their caffeine fix. It was the go-to spot for coffee for delivery truck drivers until Belleville converted front street to one way.
By the late 1950's Joe's Lunch became Rapino's Restaurant, where the business thrived, even winning an award for best restaurant menu for a small restaurant in 1963. Jim, Joe's son, carried on with the restaurant when his father died in 1961.
The Rapino's employed many people. Some were colourful individuals such as Francis Doig, a long time dishwasher who would often ask Jim "If you're by the in and out store, would mind picking me up a wee nip." Others include Maggie Birdie, Helen Burke, Audrey Smith, Mrs. Fraser.
With a jukebox at one end of the restaurant and for a time a pinball machine, the diner kept long hours, 6:00 am to catch the early birds until 1 am to serve the patrons getting out of the late show at the Belle Theatre and Bowling alley up the street. His regulars enjoyed the at-home-like atmosphere until he sold the business in 1981 and was soon torn down to make room for the Quinte Living Center.