By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
If you are looking for Fran Marincola you will likely find him at Living Room Theatre in Boca Raton, at his beachside Delray restaurant Caffe Luna Rosa or cruising around on his scooter.
As the restaurateur turns 80 on Sept. 25, he doesn’t have plans of slowing down.
“I’ve had a lot of lives,” he said reflecting on decades past from a table at Caffe Luna Rosa.
He has owned nightclubs, food stands on the shore boardwalk, a miniature golf course and a haunted house.
Born in South Philadelphia, Marincola is the oldest of four children. A younger brother died at the age of 4. It was a time when the Phillies and the A’s both played in the city of Brotherly Love, but Marincola followed neither team. He is a Yankees fan.
“You root for your own,” he explained. The Yankees had Italian players like Crosetti and DiMaggio. “My uncles wanted me to root for the Yankees. We had ties to the old country.”
Marincola’s grandparents were born in Calabria and Naples. They were poor and never learned to speak English. His family owned hoagie shops and laundromats.
Growing up, he walked everywhere. If you wanted to buy a chicken for dinner, you went to a store with live chickens, picked the one you wanted and they slaughtered and prepared it for you to take home to cook.
He graduated from Villanova and Trenton State College for Teachers. He taught remedial reading in public schools for several years.
“I got a lot out of teaching,” he said.
Since teaching was a seasonal job, he also worked in the boardwalk business. He operated several stands selling hotdogs and other boardwalk treats.
It was the 1970s and personal betting was considered a felony. Marincola and his bookie were caught, the book maker’s phone was tapped. The bet was for seven football playoff games and it cost Marincola 2 years in Trenton State Prison.
“It’s something I will never forget,” he said. “I met a lot of nice people. I met a lot of scary people. I am glad I did it, but I never want to do it again.”
He served his time from 1972-1974. He said his mother never knew he was behind bars because his brother’s voice sounded similar enough to his on the phone.
The law that sent him to jail was changed two years after he completed his sentence. He received an expungement from his record.
While he in prison, he had people running his boardwalk stands. Between 1975-1980, he said he made some money by purchasing used coin counters from buses, which he sold for a chunk of change.
And when gambling was approved in Atlantic City, he invested that money into RTA resorts.
“I knew they were going to make money,” he said. “People can now drive to play black jack and craps. It was a speculative move, but that is what I do.”
He said he borrowed money from his sister and a doctor friend and purchased more stock. He said he went to work with his stockbroker every day. When he sold his stock it was up to $184 per share. He estimates he paid about $13 per share.
“I made big money,” he said.
That money brought him to Long Branch and back into the boardwalk business where he operated serval stalls and a mini golf course that he ended up selling to the city when they needed the land. He also owned two nightclubs.
One of the clubs was in trouble when the city passed a rule demanding a midnight closing time.
The fate of the club changed when he met Bruce Springsteen at his gym. His friend was friendly with the Boss and he said he wanted to go to the club that night.
He showed up and the crowd went nuts, Marincola said. He played with a reggae band they had performing weekly.
“People started coming into our nightclub at 5 p.m.,” he said.
The 1987 fire of the Long Branch boardwalk is what brought Marincola to Delray Beach for good.
“My friend had a place here in the 80s and I would stay there,” he said. “He said you should try Delray.”
In 1993, he purchased what is now Caffe Luna Rosa. At first, it just sold to-go items because the condo above the space did not allow food for consumption on premises.
A few years later, he purchased enough units in the building to be able to have a big enough vote to change the rule and then the restaurant opened.
“We have never had a year that we didn’t do better than the year before,” he said.
The restaurant has attracted locals and celebrities for breakfast, lunch and dinner. His favorite actress Helen Mirren has dined in. So has Steve Kerr and Kid Rock.
And when Marincola isn’t checking in on the restaurant, he is either attending a city meeting, critiquing a movie, debating politics or hanging out with his wife, Kim.