By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
To call Mario Silva “colorful” is an understatement.
The owner and cook at Amalfatano’s Italian Deli on Kinoole Street, across from the downtown Hilo Chevron station, has been a cowboy, ranch and feedlot manager, combat Marine in Vietnam, professional boxer who sparred with world heavyweight champion Sonny Liston, fight manager and promoter, nightclub owner, bodyguard and personal friend of the late Philippine leader Ferdinand Marcos, and, as he’ll tell you, an armed robber — when he was much younger.
“When I’m broke, I always open up a pizza joint,” the 72-year-old Silva said last week.
Silva and his wife, Kelly, opened Amalfatano’s a little more than a month ago. He said the name came from his grandfather.
“The family is originally from Sicily, but they moved up to a place called Pozzouli, which is right outside of Naples,” Silva said. “My mother, who is Samoan-Italian, taught me how to cook. We lived on a ranch in upcountry Maui, Olinda, so I was also shoeing horses, things like that. But I always enjoyed cooking, and my mother was just a magnificent cook. My mother was making pizza when nobody knew what pizza was. My mother was making ravioli, lasagna, manicotti when nobody in Hawaii knew what it was.”
When Amalfatano’s opened, the price of their small pizza was $4.50, although they’ve raised it to $6.50 due to a “serious reality check.” All pizzas come with three toppings, and Silva drizzles the pies with extra virgin olive oil before baking.
“That’s how you finish a pizza,” he said. “Not a lot of places do that nowadays.”
Also on the menu are sub sandwiches, including meatball, Italian sausage, Italian cold cuts, eggplant Parmesan and tuna, and spaghetti with meatballs or Italian sausage.
“I’m here at 4:30 or so every morning, making the marinara sauce, making the dough, making the meatballs,” Silva said.
The walls of the restaurant sport numerous photos that tell at least the partial story of Silva’s Runyonesque life. Those photos include a relatively recent one of Neff Maiava, a retired professional wrestler Silva described as “like a father, one of the most influential men in my life.” Also included are vintage images of Silva with numerous fighters he managed, trained and/or promoted. They include two-time world champion Bobby Chacon and the late lightweight contender Andy Ganigan, the “Waipahu Sugar Man.” Ganigan died last year at age 59 after suffering brain damage following an unprovoked assault two years earlier by a much larger, younger assailant.
“Andy was my favorite fighter,” Silva said. “Not the best fighter, but the best person. He didn’t deserve what he got.”
Silva, who worked with legendary Hawaii boxing promoter “Sad Sam” Ichinose, now uses a cane to get around after being bucked off a horse a few years ago. He doesn’t complain about it, though, saying, “I can still work.” He said that business has been steady, and word-of-mouth and social media have brought new customers, some of whom become regulars.
“I serve the best food I can buy, the best food I can make,” he said. “And if I can’t get a certain item or that certain brand that I want, I just take it off the menu for the day, until I can get it.”
Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, or “until we run out of food,” Silva said. The phone number is 934-7700.
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