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Interview with Daniel Celeste

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Celeste, Daniel ; O'Neil, Dan


Dan Celeste talks about his emigration from Italy at age ten, his various jobs before joining the National Guard, and opening a restaurant in post-WWI Binghamton. He discusses raids and difficulty with business during the depression and prohibition age, then his acquisition of the Community Lounge in the Security Mutual Building.




This audio file and digital image may only be used for educational purposes. Please cite as: Broome County Oral History Project, Special Collections, Binghamton University Libraries, Binghamton University, State University of New York. For usage beyond fair use please contact the Binghamton University Libraries Special Collections for more information.

Date Modified


Is Part Of

Broome County Oral History Project


33:12 Minutes


Broome County Oral History Project

Interview with: Daniel Celeste

Interviewed by: Dan O’Neil

Date of interview: 11 April 1978

Dan O’Neil: OK, Danny, if you will tell me about your life and working experiences in the community, starting from where you were born.

Daniel Celeste: Where I born, I born in Faeto, it’s in the town of Faeto, Province of Foggio–that’s the province of the, like the state, like you say, the—

O’Neil: In Italy.

Celeste: Yeah, in Italy, and then we—Dad came here because he was here before, and ah, he brought me and my brother with him. We emigrate then from Faeto to Naples, and from Naples we come right into United States.

O’Neil: What year was that, Danny?

Celeste: 19—1908.

O’Neil: 1908.

Celeste: 1908, and we came to Binghamton. We had some relatives here—some cousins and relations, so Dad went, ah, laboring around whatever, he got a job and I went to school for a couple of months that, that year, and then I went, we went on, ah, on, ah, construction work, and took me along with him and I was waterboy there.

O’Neil: Uh huh.

Celeste: And ah, in Fabius—Fabius, NY, that’s where we—first job, ah, I really worked, and ah, we lived in a shanty, was in the camp, you know what I mean, about a couple hundred people that were in there—Christ, camping outside—and Dad didn’t want to stay in the shanty. We built a little setup there under the tree and, ah, we slept outside. (Laughter.) Well, then as I’d grow older I would come back, and, and he used to take me down to Pennsylvania and he used to work in the mine in the wintertime, had some cousins there, and ah, I used to go to school—I’d go to school for a couple of months of the winter, and ah, in the spring we’d come do the same thing, go construction work, and I was waterboy. Finally I got a job as in a transfer, trucking, freight, things like that. I stayed home with—we lived on Henry Street, we came on Henry Street and, ah, I then went to work in the freighthouse, and trucking, that’s about, oh, about two years I work in the freighthouse.

O’Neil: What freighthouse, Danny?

Celeste: The Lackawanna.

O’Neil: The Lackawanna.

Celeste: Yeah, Lackawanna Transfer, they used to call it. Transfer, Lackawanna Transfer, and ah, from there I went to the, I went to Dunn McCarthy. I got a job in Dunn McCarthy and worked there for a little while, 1914, 1915. I went away for a little time—I went to Chicago—I spent six months there, stayed with a friend of mine. I couldn’t get a job then, then hard times, them days. Came back home, I got a job in a shoe factory afterwards, ah.

O’Neil: E.J. [Endicott Johnson]?

Celeste: No, not E.J.

O’Neil: Dunn McCarthy.

Celeste: Dunn McCarthy. I worked there for about a year, then I went to E.J.’s, got a job in E.J.’s. Then 19—late 1915, I joined the Battery C, National Guard.

O’Neil: Umhm.

Celeste: The following year we got called in the service and went to the Mexican border in 19—1916, and ah, after we come back from the border, we were home for about three or four months, then the War was declared.

O’Neil: This was the First World War.

Celeste: First World War. Then we went on active service in ’17, May ’17. ‘18 we come home, we got home in March, March 12 from overseas duty.

O’Neil: Umhm.

Celeste: After I come home from service, I started the restaurant in, ah, I think it was in June—I opened up that restaurant Henry Street and I spent the rest of my life in the restaurant business.

O’Neil: Now this, what year was it you started up in, ah—?

Celeste: 1919.

O’Neil: 1919, OK.

Celeste: 1919. Then of course we didn’t have no license them days, you know—just the restaurant, but we did bootlegging at first—(laughter)—sold a little wine, a little whiskey.

O’Neil: Did you make your own wine, Danny?

Celeste: Yeah—oh God, yeah.

O’Neil: Was it the “Dago red” wine?

Celeste: “Dago red,” what they called “Dago red.” One year I made 100, 107 barrels of wine.

O’Neil: Is that right? Where did you get the grapes for all that?

Celeste: California.

O’Neil: California.

Celeste: A fella used to, John Morelli, used to bring it in from California, and he was a cousin of mine so I made all this wine, and a short time later, got it made—I put a little here, a little there. They raid me—they took about thirty barrels away from me but I got a lot more left.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: So I followed up that business and stayed right in the business—when the License came back, why, ah, I got the restaurant and liquor license and beer license and got in the right business and was there until 1919-1960 when the State bought Henry Street out, you know, to put that overhead.

O’Neil: Yeah, right, Brandywine.

Celeste: Bought part of Henry Street and they had to take me down.

O’Neil: Right, right.

Celeste: Goddamn thing, my, my poor wife got sick over it.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: Then she, ah, we were doing good business.

O’Neil: Oh, you did a fine business down there.

Celeste: Did a good business down there, and I had the whole family—my daughter was married and living upstairs and we live on the second floor—had all the accommodations we want and we lived fine and, ah, no complaint. Came here on Court Street—we bought the place and remodeled.

O’Neil: What was it called then, Danny? The place on Court Street?

Celeste: What was it called?

O’Neil: Yeah, was there a restaurant there before?

Celeste: It was a grocery store.

O’Neil: Oh, a grocery store.

Celeste: It was Buck’s Grocery.

O’Neil: Oh, Buck’s—-yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Celeste: And then, ah, so we torn down everything inside and built it up new and everything. I put in over $100,000 in the goddamn place.

O’Neil: Uh huh.

Celeste: Why, I wanted to buy my son-in-law a liquor store, but he liked the restaurant business.

O’Neil: Uh huh.

Celeste: That’s bad today, like the restaurant business. That’s all right—the hell, one thing is as good as the other.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: He liked the work and poor Bill had to get sick.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: Of course when Bill give up and I stayed a little while myself—I couldn’t take care of it, know what I mean, then.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: Got in trouble with my eyes and started putting me down a little bit. After my wife died in ’68, I hang around the place a little bit with other boys, you know that I—-it wasn’t just right, I didn’t feel just right.

O’Neil: Right.

Celeste: So when I sold the place—the first time I sold it—

O’Neil: What year was that?

Celeste: ’60—1960, sold the restaurant on Court Street.

O’Neil: ’60—1960.

Celeste: Yeah.

O’Neil: OK.

Celeste: And, ah, 1960, and then I stood around town—didn’t do too much. I used to hang around the restaurant, help Jim—-I can’t think of his last name now. Was Jim—oh God almighty, Jim, Jim—

O’Neil: No matter.

Celeste: Just ah, well, he spent, Jim spent about three years in there then and left his son in there, and his son run the business himself and then, ah, somebody else took it over then there.

O’Neil: Was that LaMonica?

Celeste: Jim—no, not LaMonica. He’s from Endicott. Jim, ah, Capullo, Jim Capullo.

O’Neil: Umhm.

Celeste: And he’s in there for about three or four years, and boy did and then they run the place down—then they sold it.

O’Neil: Umhm.

Celeste: And, ah, get started again, and that’s the end of it for me. That’s when these other guys come in, laid around and operated a Greek restaurant.

O’Neil: The Retsina now.

Celeste: Yeah.

O’Neil: Now when did you—now from the time that you were—your place was torn down on Henry Street, didn’t you go to the Community Lounge?

Celeste: Yeah, yeah.

O’Neil: What year, what year did you go there?

Celeste: Oh, I had still run on Henry Street at the time.

O’Neil: Oh, you still had the place on Henry Street.

Celeste: Yeah, yeah, I went in there with Bill Viglione. Remember Bill?

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: And, ah—

O’Neil: What year was that, Danny?

Celeste: ’47.

O’Neil: ’47.

Celeste: I just spent a couple of years there—I didn’t stay there. I went back to Henry Street there, came back to Henry Street and stayed there until after we sold—changed over then, you know.

O’Neil: Uh huh.

Celeste: ’47 or ’48, ’49, I forgot who, then somebody else went in there—well, they operated, anyway.

O’Neil: Now, who was the prior owner of the Community—he had an Irish name—what was his name? You took it over from him—he died, do you remember his name?

Celeste: Just can’t think of his name now. His brother used to run the place on Water Street.

O’Neil: Umhm.

Celeste: Remember those places—one on Chenango Street, used to run—took Yannuzzi’s place?

O’Neil: Uh huh.

Celeste: Oh God, I forget.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: Quite a nice fellow.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: Yeah, we took it from this fella—I can’t think of his name now.

O’Neil: Why did you, why did you leave the Community, ah, Danny?

Celeste: I, ah, I didn’t like too much confusement with, with other confusement.

O’Neil: Yeah. When you were working there, did Liberace, was he—did he come?

Celeste: Oh yes, yes, Liberace played there. Sure, sure, the Community.

O’Neil: In what year was that, did you recall?

Celeste: Well, I say Liberace played there in ’47, ’48.

O’Neil: ’48—about a year or so after you took over.

Celeste: Yeah.

O’Neil: Any other, ah, ah, big names play there in the Community that you can recall?

Celeste: I can’t just, ah, geez—you remember more than I do. (Laughter.) No, I don’t, to tell you the truth—we always had a band there.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: And, ah, of course, Liberace was quite an entertainer there.

O’Neil: Yeah—do you remember what he was paid a week at that time?

Celeste: Oh, couldn’t have, about $100, not more than $150 a week.

O’Neil: Is that right?

Celeste: Yeah.

O’Neil: He’s a multimillionaire today.

Celeste: Right, yes—well, we passed it.

O’Neil: Now, what were some of the main restaurants in town, Danny, during your era? What would you say were the main restaurants in town? We had quite a few of them.

Celeste: Garvey’s.

O’Neil: That was up on the north side.

Celeste: No, Garvey’s was on Chenango Street.

O’Neil: On Chenango Street, but on the north side, though, wasn’t it?

Celeste: Yeah, towards the—no, not on the north side—right on the, near the bank.

O’Neil: Oh, was he?

Celeste: Yeah, Garvey’s and Hodge.

O’Neil: Steve Hodge.

Celeste: Steve Hodge—on State Street was a nice restaurant.

O’Neil: Pitch’s.

Celeste: Pitch’s.

O’Neil: Pitch’s Oyster House.

Celeste: Well, Pitch’s was on State Street, I think.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: Pitch’s on State Street, yeah, I think they got State Street.

O’Neil: And then they had a restaurant in the Bennett Hotel.

Celeste: Oh yeah, the Bennett Hotel, they had a restaurant.

O’Neil: Yeah—San Souci Grill. (Laughter.)

Celeste: You tell me, you remember all those things—I should remember, but anymore.

O’Neil: How old are you, Danny?

Celeste: I’ll be 80 in July.

O’Neil: 80 in July, OK, and how old were you when you emigrated from Italy?

Celeste: I was 10 years old.

O’Neil: 10 years old, uh huh, so your education is—what would you say was the highest grade that you went to?

Celeste: In the third grade in Italy.

O’Neil: Third grade in Italy, and over here you went to school.

Celeste: I went to school about four or five months over the time.

O’Neil: All the time?

Celeste: Yeah.

O’Neil: Is that right?

Celeste: And I went to night school later in the years, you know. I took up a little night school.

O’Neil: Uh huh.

Celeste: That’s nights I went to school.

O’Neil: Uh huh—now, when you started on Henry Street, ah, did you buy a building to start your restaurant?

Celeste: We lease it first, but I put the business, we bought the building, in 1919 we bought the building.

O’Neil: But you leased it at first.

Celeste: Yeah, we leased it first—we rented from, hooo, geez—a good Irish name, too, Irish family, very nice, ah, the boy’s still walking around—Danny—I can’t think of his last name now.

O’Neil: But you leased it when you came back out of service after World War I?

Celeste: Yeah.

O’Neil: After World War I, so about 1918.

Celeste: 1919.

O’Neil: And started in business for yourself? And you leased the building, is that right?

Celeste: Oh, we used to live there.

O’Neil: Oh, you used to live there.

Celeste: We moved in there in 1911.

O’Neil: Oh, but was it a brick building then or did you remodel it?

Celeste: We remodeled the front.

O’Neil: Oh, I see.

Celeste: I put the—I remodeled the front.

O’Neil: Umhm.

Celeste: It was around 1930, ’31 that I remodeled the front.

O’Neil: I see.

Celeste: Just before, before the beer came back.

O’Neil: Yeah, but from the time you opened up until the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, why, you made your own wine, is that right?

Celeste: Yeah, oh yeah, made—Christ, made all kinds of wine. (Laughter.)

O’Neil: Probably made more money on the wine than you did on the spaghetti, huh?

Celeste: Oh God, yes—-well was 25¢ a bottle.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: 25¢ a bottle, $1.00 a gallon.

O’Neil: Uh huh. Well, they raided you when—raided you one year and took thirty barrels?

Celeste: They raided me the year they took thirty barrels away from me.

O’Neil: Left you better than seventy barrels left, huh?

Celeste: That Slocum son of a bitch—they still call him a son of a bitch.

O’Neil: Slocum?

Celeste: Yeah.

O’Neil: What was he, ah—

Celeste: He was, ah, squad, ah, him and, ah, a Polish fella they got—he’s still, ah, retired now. I see him once in a while.

O’Neil: Yeah—it don’t matter.

Celeste: Yeah, ah, Barvinchak.

O’Neil: Barvinchack.

Celeste: Yeah, they come in and said they just wanted to see the place, you know, just, ah—

O’Neil: Uh huh.

Celeste: And, ah, they had a party upstairs—well, this was upstairs, well, you know, before had some upstairs and downstairs—ah, they come upstairs, they wanted to see what was in there, and Christ, I had a supply of beer for the night, you know, stuff, wine and things like that—said, “We’ll have to take it, you can’t drink.” They took it all with them, broke it later—I don’t know if they broke it.

O’Neil: Did you make beer too?

Celeste: Oh yeah, oh yeah, Christ, beer. Boy, my wife used to make beer and she made a damn good beer.

O’Neil: Uh huh.

Celeste: One lady came up to me—show her how to make beer. My God, and she improved every time she made beer.

O’Neil: Uh huh.

Celeste: She made a damn good brew. Very, a lot of people used to come up for that brew.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: And, ah, up to 1929-30, we had our own beer, our own wine, you know how it is.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: But we got the [inaudible] back of beer, when the regular beer came back, then I took everything out—give it away, most of the stuff was left. Whatever was left I give my, “Why here, here’s a case of beer.” I didn’t want to be implicated in, ah, you know, mean, find fault for coming back and say, “He’s still bootlegging,” and things like that.

O’Neil: Yeah, yeah.

Celeste: So I started to live a very clean life from that time on—nice business.

O’Neil: I know you had a real good business.

Celeste: Had a nice business.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: Had a good chef—couple of chefs, used to put on a good feed.

O’Neil: Yeah, yeah.

Celeste: And I helped in the kitchen lots of the time.

O’Neil: Uh huh.

Celeste: Used to get in the kitchen, and then after my daughter got married and my son-in-law took over, I just hanged around the place—I didn’t have much to do.

O’Neil: Yeah, Yeah.

Celeste: That’s how I happened to go in the Community that time.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: But I was glad to get back home again.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: I had a place on Henry Street right next to the morning Sun—you know there used to be a morning Sun and used to be on the corner of State. 

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: And just that building next door, there, and ah, on the second floor we had the, we had a restaurant there, had a—

O’Neil: What year was this?

Celeste: In 1928 or ’29.

O’Neil: So you had two of them going at the same time, and ah, how long were you in that business, or how long had you retained that?

Celeste: Oh, was in there—this friend of mine, John, he was quite a card player—he liked to gamble and he used to go out. Well, we broke up—we didn’t. You know, lot’s of times you came in and bought a drink and I took the money, I ring the money, “No sale.”

O’Neil: Uh huh.

Celeste: And, and put the money in there, ’cause I didn’t want those people to think marked “Liquor” on the register, and John said, ah, “Why don’t you ring the—?” I say, “John,” I say, “lots of time the inspectors come in—the food inspectors, and they like to check.” I didn’t want to show what we sell because we wasn’t supposed to have any beer.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: But anyway, we broke up—we couldn’t get along no more—I couldn’t trust him no more, he didn’t trust me, and I, I had to quit.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: When a person don’t trust me, I don’t like to be involved, to think that I was gypping him and other things.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: Finally applied for—used to work up up at the tax office in the city—it’ll come to me sometime when I don’t want to—

O’Neil: Hennessy.

Celeste: Not Hennessy, no.

O’Neil: Sheehan.

Celeste: Ah—

O’Neil: What awards have you had in—had any awards at all, Danny? Militarily or in the restaurant business or anything like that?

Celeste: No, no.

O’Neil: Any clubs you belong to?

Celeste: Oh, I belong to the Eagles, belong to the Elks for quite, ah—joined, belonged to the Eagles, the Moose them days—I used to join them and get acquainted with the people.

O’Neil: Right.

Celeste: Used to go down to the Veterans’ Clubs, you know, VFW and Legion.

O’Neil: Uh huh—were you pretty active in the Legion affairs?

Celeste: I was very active, yeah.

O’Neil: Uh huh, did you hold any offices in the Legion?

Celeste: No no, was a Sergeant in the Drum Corps and that’s all when it first started, and then, ah, I done a lot of work that I should have done that I used to go to the Legion a lot.

O’Neil: Yeah, yeah.

Celeste: Help the Legion out that way.

O’Neil: Is there anything else of interest, Danny, you would like to tell me? Can you think of anything else?

Celeste: God, I think I’ve told you everything you wanted to know.

O’Neil: Uh huh.

Celeste: You can ask me, I mean, if I can—

O’Neil: Yeah. Yeah, ah, when you went into service, of course you had already been in the service—you joined up so you weren’t, you didn’t have to go through any Draft Board or anything in World War I?

Celeste: No, no.

O’Neil: Yeah, yeah.

Celeste: No—was in Battery C.

O’Neil: Yeah—in Battery C.

Celeste: I joined them in 1915, just before 1916. Then the War broke out and they organized it—they called the guards out—they shipped us down to the Mexican border there in (McClellan trucks) and we were down there for five or six months and, ah—

O’Neil: Now the Retsina building—you still own it, don’t you now, Danny?

Celeste: Yeah, I still own it.

O’Neil: So you just lease it to the—

Celeste: Lease it.

O’Neil: And it’s a Greek restaurant, I guess, now.

Celeste: Yeah.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: And I got that parking lot over on the corner of Pine and Carroll Street.

O’Neil: Oh, do you lease that out to Dietzsch, Dietzsch Pontiac and Cadillac?

Celeste: Yeah.

O’Neil: That’s good, that’s good.

Celeste: Yeah, I want to sell it. I got a little mortgage still going on, but I want to sell the restaurant—get rid of it.

O’Neil: Yeah—Giant made you any offer or anything else, or are they interested at all?

Celeste: Well, I don’t think those boys there got any money. I don’t know who’s backing them up, but, ah—

O’Neil: Well, they’ve got a lot of money. (Laughter.)

Celeste: Think so. I hope so, I hope so.

O’Neil: ’Course, there’s quite a bit of property between you—well, not an awful lot—not an awful lot.

Celeste: I think someday that, that corner will be torn down for a little hotel. You know, that’s a fine sport for a little hotel right in center part of the city.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: And I wish somebody would start it and promote, I mean, I’m not in the real estate business, but I mean, I can see a hotel on that corner better than I can see where the hell, down out of the way where transient is, not, you know, I mean, like on Water Street, where the ah—what’s the hotel there on—the big hotel they got?

O’Neil: You mean the Treadway?

Celeste: Yeah, the Treadway.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: That’s out the way and you can’t even see it. Here’s one in the center of the city where traffic, transient business all, all the way around.

O’Neil: Yeah.

Celeste: And I think that it’d make a swell spot for a hotel.

O’Neil: OK, and what church do you belong to, Danny? Still belong to—

Celeste: St. Mary’s Church.

O’Neil: St. Mary’s—still go there. Yeah, OK, well if there isn’t anything else that you can think of, Danny, why—

Celeste: Just ask me.

O’Neil: Well, we’ll terminate it on this note.

Celeste: Anything, anything that you like to.

O’Neil: Well, I think we’ve covered everything that I, we want to—I mean, I can think to ask you. you’ve been in the restaurant business all your life and been very successful at it. You retired in what year?

Celeste: ’60, ’69—1970.

O’Neil: 1970, OK, well would you like me to play it back for you, Danny?

Celeste: (Laughter.)

Date of Interview



O'Neil, Dan


Celeste, Daniel


33:12 Minutes

Date of Digitization



Broome County Oral History Project

Subject LCSH

Celeste, Daniel -- Interviews; Broome County (N.Y.) -- History; Immigrants -- Interviews; Binghamton (N.Y.); Restaurateurs -- Interviews; Prohibition; National Guard; Community Lounge; Security Mutual Building

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