Meet Your Neighbors: Restaurant owner recalls Wild West, Godfather-style adventures in native Sicily

Kingman pizzaria owner Vito Lombardo said he spent the first seven years of his life in a region of Italy riven by frontier-style justice and "Godfather"-like revenge: Sicily.

Lombardo said he also learned Sicilian values that led him to be a strong family man that he is today.

He and his wife, Mary, have five children and two grandchildren.

Lombardo, 47, said he recalls his later father, Pietro, telling him the fate met by thieves who stole Pietro's workhorse before Vito was born.

"He told me he went to see his uncle to see if he could help him out," Lombardo said.

"He says three days later at the edge of town three guys were hanging, and he got his horse back."

Asked whether the incident resembled the Wild West, Lombardo said, "You did not mess with a guy's horse.

That was everything."

Lombardo, a short, stocky, swarthy man, also reminisced about a family seeking revenge on his family because his father would not let his sister Maria, then 17, marry a member of that family.

In fact, Maria was engaged to another youth.

"The old man would not have any of that," Lombardo said.

The family retaliated by burning down the Lombardo family's farmhouse, he said.

"The police would come by all the time," he said.

While police at the time did not go after the family for reasons unclear to young Vito, they issued a permit to carry a gun to his father.

"My dad would sleep during the day for a few hours and be up all night with his shotgun protecting the house," Lombardo said.

"We had these threats everyday."

He said the family members threatened his sister's fiancé by placing a bomb in his house, but the bomb did not go off.

"And then one night when Dad was in the window he heard a little ruckus," Lombardo continued.

"He saw a guy put a bomb by the front door.

He hollered out and shot at him and blew his ear off, and then the next day the police finally raided these people's house and found the guy with the blown-up ear."

The police confiscated guns and homemade bombs and made arrests.

Lombardo said his family also experienced relative tranquility processing tomatoes into spaghetti sauce for family use and making grapes into wine for sale.

"All the women would get together during harvest season and they would cook up this huge pot of tomatoes," he said.

"They ran (tomatoes) through the hand grinder and it would last the whole season.

This was a big family thing.

"They all got together and they would make sauce that would last the whole year, bushels and bushels of sauce.

I had pasta every day of my life.

I still do."

Lombardo said the family lacked amenities such as electricity and a car.

In fact, he rode in a car for the first time at the age of 7 as the family headed to the airport in Palermo, bound for the United States.

They left Sicily shortly after the other family terrorized them, but the Lombardos were planning on leaving anyway, he said.

They decided to settle in Grand Rapids, Mich., because of family ties to the community.

His maternal grandparents left Sicily for Grand Rapids to work on the railroad, but they returned to Sicily when Vitria, his mother, was 6 months old.

When Vito arrived with his father and other siblings at the airport in Grand Rapids, his mother and brother Joe greeted them.

Joe drove a 1960 Impala.

His father took a job at a family-owned cheese company.

His mother went to work in a laundry, and Maria became a beautician.

The Lombardo family saved enough money to buy a pizzaria in the 1960s, Lombardo said.

He worked in the pizzaria along with his brother Gino and sister Frances.

"I was in the kitchen grating cheese, cutting onions, and we all worked together all up to the day I got married in 1975," he said.

He said he inherited his father's pizzaria because he was the youngest child.

While Lombardo never drew pay for the years he worked in his father's pizzaria, his father presented him with a bank account with $20,000 during the ownership changeover, he said.

Lombardo said he sold the establishment around 1990 because it was located in a bad neighborhood, and opened another pizzaria.

He said the death of son Vito Jr.

in a head-on collision in 1994 prompted the family to consider a move.

"He had so many friends and was so popular in town being the football star," Lombardo said.

"We just could not take driving by the high school" Vito Jr.


"We just had to move out."

The Lombardos first considered Las Vegas, Nev., but settled in Kingman in 1999 after landing "some good deals" on property, he said.

His wife and youngest daughter, Gina, bought a beauty salon on Northern Avenue.

Lombardo said he returned to the pizzaria business in 1999 because he was unimpressed with the existing establishments in Kingman.

He also bought a bar but later closed it to concentrate fully on the pizzzaria.

His pizzaria on Andy Devine Avenue features framed, black-and-white photos of his grandparents, aunts and uncles.

The photos illustrate the importance of family to Lombardo, first learned in his village in Sicily.

"My dad believed in family so much," Lombardo said.

"He said, 'Take care of your family.' I taught my kids the same thing."

Lombardo, who returned to Sicily for a visit in 1980, said he was brought up to respect others.

"You respected everybody," he said.

"Whether it is a bum or a lawyer, you gave them respect.

Always defend your honor.

That is what I taught my kids."