Proud to be Italian: A Conversation with Ciao Pittsburgh’s Founder, Jack De Leonibus

Ciao Pittsburgh prides itself in being the first and only digital publication covering Italian-Americans living and working in the Pittsburgh region. Founded in early 2012, Ciao Pittsburgh is now averaging about 1,200 views per month.

Founder Jack De Leonibus, 38, strives to give his readers an insightful glimpse into the Italian-American culture through eclectic coverage and meaningful dialogue. More than just an online publication, Jack hopes Ciao Pittsburgh provides a unique forum where Italian-Americans from all walks of life can share their storie (stories), patrimonio (heritage), and esperienze di vita (life experiences) with his readers.

Jack is married to Stephanie and they have three children—Victoria, Nevio, and Romina. He’s originally from Pittsburgh’s Little Italy, Bloomfield, and currently lives in the North Hills area. We recently sat down with Jack to learn more about his Italian roots, his family, and his aspirations for Ciao Pittsburgh.

You’re quite the entrepreneur.  You started a Bocce club several years ago and now you launched Ciao Pittsburgh. Tell us more about these endeavors. 

I started a Bocce Club in 2009 called Bocce Mafia because I’ve always loved the game. We would play at our family reunions and wherever else I could play. My cousin, Paul, and I were the two to count on for not forgetting to bring the Bocce ball set. If one of us forgot, the other one would have them. It was a joke with us every year—if he didn’t have the cigars or wine, then I did.

That’s what really wanted me to start a Bocce club—the fun, the competition, the tightness we shared with one another, and most of all, the great memories. I put a website together at www.boccemafia.com so I can share pictures, videos, and my life of Bocce. We currently have three great sponsors: our tournament sponsor, Birra Moretti, as well as two cigar shops: Allegheny Smokeworks and The Leaf & Bean of McMurray. We’re always looking for more sponsors to add to our family.

I started Ciao Pittsburgh earlier this year. It’s an Italian-cultured site where we share things that we enjoy or have done. We also welcome emails from our readers on experiences they have had with the culture, trips to Italy, recipes, stories, articles, photos, or anything else they would like to share with us. For anyone who would like to advertise, we have some special introductory ad rates, as well as customized ad packages. So far we have been growing month by month, both with revisits and new, unique visits to the site. We hope that it will continue to grow as time goes on.

I started both of these sites because I want to keep the Italian culture alive. Most people my age are not into their culture and do not really care about their heritage. I thought it would be nice to start a little club to get close friends and family members together more often, since life brings everyone in different directions all of the time. Since Bocce is thought by most to be played by old Italian men, I wanted to let people know that this isn’t true. It’s a great game for all ages. If you play Bocce just once, you will be hooked—I can guarantee it!

What kind of tips do you have for beginning Bocce players?

I would have to say first and most of all, there are different rules with every club or tournament you play. It can be a bit discouraging because there are no real set standard of rules to follow. Home court rules are the way you will need to play. If you just want to play for fun, the name of the game is to simply get your Bocce or Bocce’s as close to the small white ball (called the pallino) as possible to score the point or points.

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?

I would have to say that I can go full force with projects that I want to pursue. I set my own goals to achieve and I do it on my terms. I’m at my best and seem to have endless ideas on certain projects when my whole heart is into it. When I pursue new projects, I do a lot of research and spend a great deal of time and energy on them. I’m always changing and tweaking my ideas until I get it the way I want it. I do like getting  opinions from others who are honest with me and I trust, but in the end, I run with what my heart says.

How long have you lived in Pittsburgh and what do you enjoy about the city?

I have lived in Pittsburgh my whole life. I enjoy the view of the city, the sports teams, as well as the little nooks and crannies throughout the city that people tend to overlook. It’s truly a one-stop shop. For example, there’s nothing like going down to the Strip District and walking around, enjoying the day, stopping to get an espresso, and eating. A friend of mine from Philadelphia visited Pittsburgh last summer and I enjoyed taking him around to all of our main landmarks that most people love about our city. He really enjoyed his time that we spent checking out Pittsburgh.

Can you tell us a little about you Italian heritage?

I have strong ties to my Italian heritage and I’m dedicated about keeping our Italian tradition alive. My surname, De Leonibus, came from the given name De Leoni which comes from the Latin Leo or Leonios. My ancestors came over from Italy in the late 1800’s. My paternal grandfather was a professional skier in Italy and served in the war. My maternal great-grandfather was a master carpenter. I have a box frame he built that is over 60 years old.

My family is from the region of Abruzzo,—“The MiddIe of The Boot is my Root!” It’s truly a unique nationality and I’m proud that I have such a great heritage. I’m keeping my children involved with the foods that we make so hopefully one day they can pass it on and keep it going.

So what’s your favorite Italian food? Favorite Italian wine?

I love all Italian food. I can tell you one thing, though. I could eat homemade sausage, polenta, greens and beans everyday and not get sick of it. The key to a great sausage sandwich is the bread. If you don’t have great bread, you have nothing. I’m very picky when it comes to Italian sausage. It has to be either homemade or from Donatelli’s in Bloomfield.

I have two wines that I really enjoy—my homemade Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet is my first pick. The Cab has to be light to medium oaked. Heavy oaking is a no-no… dry wine for me!

Speaking of wine, my brother, Jay, and I were featured on the premiere episode of the Wine-ing on the Weekends podcast in the fall 2010 where we discussed our winemaking tradition. We were also featured on KDKA-TV’s Pittsburgh Today morning program back in winter 2010. A wine labeling company from Canada was so impressed with our wine bottle labels, which were mentioned on the video portion of the podcast, that she contacted us about it. It was great publicity!

What are some of your favorite Italian traditions and why?   

I would have to say Italian weddings. I love Italian weddings because of the music, the food, and most of all, my favorite—the Italian peach pastries that I load up on because I only get them once in awhile.  I also enjoy the homemade foods that my family and in-laws get together to make, such as pasta, sausage, pizza, cheese, wine, sauce, my almost famous peppers, bread, cured meats, pastries and much more.

The seven fishes on Christmas eve at my in-laws is another favorite Italian tradition. I also enjoy Christmas Day at my parents. In the summer, it’s difficult because we are always on the go, but during the winter months, we always do pasta Sunday dinner.  Even though it’s a lot of work making these types of food, at the end of the day, I love the taste. You also know what is going into the foods and I take great delight in seeing other people enjoy the finally product. As far as the other traditions, it’s great to get together, relax, and just being with family.

I can also remember like it was yesterday—a few times a week during lunchtime, my grandfather and I would start off eating a dandelion salad with a loaf of fresh Italian bread. We would rip off pieces of bread and at the end dip it into the oil and vinegar. The simple traditions like that I will hold in my memories forever.

Finally, my cousin, Jason, and I have this thing we began to do years ago when we leave voice messages for each other. We say a few words in Italian and then, in broken English, we say, “the tomatoes a no good.” This started at his 30th birthday party—my first “gag” gift to him was a card and a brown bag. The card was telling him what a great cousin he is and I handwrote at the end, “the tomatoes a no good.” In the brown paper bag, there were a few rotten tomatoes from my dad’s garden. We laughed so hard because relatives from his in-laws’ side and some friends had no idea what was going on. The look on their faces was just priceless.

Have you had a chance to visit Italy?     

No, I have not. I was planning on going with a friend during spring break on year, but it didn’t work out. My wife and I were going to go to Italy and get married there, but there was a lot involved in the little time that we were able to go, so we passed on the idea. I do plan on going once my children get a little older so we can all enjoy it. If I’m going to spend the money, I want my kids to enjoy it as well.

What does being Italian mean to you?

To me it means hard workers, people who are strong minded, pride, great food, and most of all, family. It’s a greatness that I feel inside that no one can take away. It’s different than any other nationality; it’s unique. You have to be Italian to understand. Or you have to know or be around Italian people who keep up with traditions and the way they live life to really understand how great it is to be Italian! People don’t realize when our ancestors came over that it wasn’t a walk in the park for them either. They had it rough just like other nationalities. But they found a way out and pulled through all of the tough times to give us a better way of living.

What else do you enjoy that is not Italian-related?

I enjoy my large saltwater tank. It’s a lot of work, but when the work is done and the tank looks perfect, I can sit back and look at it for hours. I enjoy making my own homemade cigars (see photos below) and I also enjoy working out at the hardcore gym where I grew up.

Check out some of the photos below from our chat with Jack. Just click on the photos to enlarge them.

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Comments

  1. cathy costa fusca says:

    love the story , Jack, ur expression of PRIDE how i feel too. my fave is the christmas eve “calabresi style” my costa family on WQED every year a repeat for HOLIDAYS IN PGH> we represent the italian christmas on the show. I half abruzzese too, my mom side…CARLINI. Keep your love of your fine heritage instilled in you, and give the gift to your kids and grandkids!!!BRAVO GIACOMO! hope to see you at THE PITTSBURGH COLUMBUS DAY PARADE on OCT 6 2012 at 11 a.m. JOIN US TO CELEBRATE OUR ANCESTRY!!!

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