“We had a six-burner stove and a charbroiler, because they run on natural gas, and two generators, a 4,500-watt and an 800-watt,” Manzo recounted. “I made coffee. I got some of the lights working. We were using sternos for heat, anything we could to try and warm the place up. You couldn’t use propane inside the building, and you couldn’t use electric heaters because it put too much of a strain on the generators. We burned through four generators because they were running 24-7.”
He added, “All we had was two generators and a prayer.”
Word spread. People posted comments about the restaurant on Facebook. It was a port in a storm, and one with good food.
A month and a half later, some of M’s first post-storm customers are still coming back. “He’s a good guy, and he takes care of the whole community,” said one of them, a man named James who was sitting at the counter recently, adding that he has been coming to the restaurant since day one.
Besides the fact that it was simply open, what impressed people most about M’s right after the storm was the prices Manzo charged: whatever you could pay, which in many cases was nothing. He was giving meals away.
“They didn’t have the money, there were no ATMs running, so we helped them out as best we could,” he said of his hungry customer. “We kept the prices down as best we could. We didn’t even cover our costs. But it didn’t matter.”
The restaurant also acted as a donation center. The week before Thanksgiving, with the help of Manzo’s bowling team, it provided nearly 200 needy residents with Thanksgiving dinners. Santa Claus visited M’s last weekend, cheering up children and giving away toys.
As Island Park continues to slowly rebuild, people have been singing Manzo’s praises for his generosity. But he shrugs off the compliments, seeming to be as modest as he is friendly.
“You do what you have to in a crisis,” he said. “You see what people are made of in a crisis. It’s not important what I did. I did what I did because we had to.”
Manzo, who lived for a long time in Long Beach, said he feels at home in Island Park, even though he hasn’t been there long. “These people in this town are what this story should be about, not about me,” he said. “I have never in my life seen a better, heartwarming, [more] genuine set of people, and I would not abandon them.”