November 29, 2001

Taking a Peek Behind the Scenes

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In this three part series, The Sun will highlight the people who leave their mark everyday on Cornell, Collegetown and Ithaca. You may not even know their names but you’ve probably seen their faces or witnessed their handiwork. The second installment looks at familiar faces in the Collegetown area.

Most Cornell students frequent Collegetown for reasons social and otherwise, but few take the time to get to know the people who form the backbone of this community.

Brothers at the Bagel Shop

Two brothers, twins, share an apartment, play in the same band, party together, and work together at Collegetown Bagels. Anyone walking by this popular student hangout may remember seeing not one, but two faces decorated with piercings and bodies adorned with tattoos. The brothers moved to Ithaca a little over a year ago, but they have been coming to visit the town for years.

Mathew and Alex Harrington were born in Rochester, New York. Mathew, 22, said, “Our parents liked to roam around a lot.”

It seems their parents’ adventurous spirit was passed down to both brothers, who spent much of their teenage years traveling around New York.

About 13 months ago in Albany, the two made a last minute move to Ithaca. Alex explains, “I like not to look at the clock, not to make plans; I like to make plans on impulse.”

“Ithaca has always been a chill place to be because it’s fun, we knew a lot of people here, and we could enjoy being around a lot of people and still see some trees. There are a lot of shady places … there’s still some honesty in this town,” Mathew said.

Alex said he likes Ithaca because, “This town is very surreal. Everyone’s got a cause or argument. I love it here. You can just make up a cause and things to do for it. It’s hard to have an opinion here without it being argued. And, this town is heavily based on music and art and that’s a definite plus. Even though the [locals] here take it for granted, there are a lot of benefits in this town. This town is a great place to be.”

“We also came here because we got a job here. We heard that [Collegetown Bagels] wouldn’t really mind what we look like. The first thing I look for in a job is someplace that accepts me for what I am,” said Mathew, who previously had a job at an electronics factory as a process coordinator in charge of military communications equipment.

“In my whole life I haven’t met so many diverse types of people behind the counter, and in front of it,” he said.

Zack “Spazz” Stacey, one of their coworkers at Collegetown Bagels describes his friends of about two years as, “really intelligent, nice, really good judges of character. They’re always willing to help out their friends. They’re pretty unique twins.”

Both have indulged in body art — or body modification — since their 18th birthday when they got their first tattoo together. Mathew says that he likes being a work of living art. Alex said he found tattooing and piercing to be a healthier form of self — expression than his two-year masochism phase as a young teenager.

For Alex, who has facial tattoos, the work that he does now on his body is about “the quest for personal freedom. It is the ultimate personal freedom that I can do what I want with my body — whatever I want to do with my life as well. I am far from finished.”

Alex plays drums and dabbles with the bass guitar, Matthew plays the guitar and does the vocals and lyric-writing for his band “Psycho-Kraft.” Both brothers talk a lot about the importance of all types of arts and music in their lives.

Alex said his message is to “never give up playing. The world is my playground … every natural being learns from playing”

The Friendly Pizza Parlor

Friends Sam Chafee and Enzo Merendino (“Vinny”), opened Mama Teresa’s Pizza on Nov. 5, 1997. After working together in New York City in various pizza operations, a friend at Cornell informed them that there was a noticeable absence of good New York Style pizza parlors near the Cornell campus.

They made a visit to Ithaca, found that they liked it, and rented the spot they currently occupy on Dryden Rd., where they have served students for the past four years. Their only competition, La Bella, went out of business soon after they opened.

Ranked “the best place nationwide that kids like when they’re wasted” by Playboy Magazine in 1999, Sam and Vinny can cite numerous experiences with drunk students after parties.

“Trying to deal with the crowd, figuring out what the kids are saying, they can’t even remember what they’ve ordered. I don’t know how many times some kid has come in here, put in an order, and then just wandered off forgetting that they even ordered something,” Sam said.

“The worst part is when people come in drunk and want free pizza. They argue with me for free pizza,” Vinny said.

At the same time, Sam said, one of his favorite parts of having the restaurant is, “always meeting new people. It feels great. Especially when freshmen, or newcomers, come in and have never tasted such good quality pizza where they are from. It’s always busy and active. It feels good serving such good quality food.”

Sam and Vinny each work 17 hour shifts on alternate days.

“Our pizza wouldn’t be the same without one of us there … We have a wonderful group of Cornell students helping, even people that have graduated work here for a few months,” Sam said.

“It’s fun working with [Sam and Vinny]. I’ve gone to Sam’s house for dinner with his family. They’re great,” said Paco Vendido ’02, who works at the pizzeria.

The two friends say they have come to appreciate Ithaca. “When I came, I wanted to go back [to New York City] again. People just go to the bars every night here, which is very different from New York City. Now I like it. It’s something different,” Vinny said.

Sam, his friend of seven years, agrees, “[Ithaca] is a very quiet place were there are not so many things to do. Now I like Ithaca more than New York City. It’s irritating going home, I really appreciate Ithaca and all the parks, having a house with a front yard and backyard where I can raise my kids.”

Sam lives with his wife and two children in Ithaca. Vinny lives in an apartment with his brother Peter, who works as a cook at Mama Teresa’s.

“A lot of people like us and like our pizza. We have a good business. We like it here. Why would you move when you like something?” Vinny said.

A Neighborhood Bar

Students familiar with Dunbar’s have undoubtedly encountered David Pepin or Lee Denman, the co-owners and bouncers for the popular hockey bar in Collegetown. Pepin and Denman met while attending Ithaca College together, and owned Glenwood Pines Restaurant and Dunburger’s before opening Dunbar’s in 1979.

While Collegetown has seen many changes in the last 22 years, Pepin remarks that Dunbar’s has had “the same type of crowd ever since we’ve been here … we haven’t tried to be anything fancy or special; we are what we are.”

Pepin’s own ability to greet and recognize a great number of his customers reflects the bar’s overall “throwback” atmosphere.

Bartender Adriana Culmone affectionately says of Pepin, “He’s grouchy, but he’s a sweetheart.”

During his time at Dunbar’s, he has noticeably befriended several of the bar-goers and even their parents.

“I enjoy having [students] here. It makes us feel good when they come back after graduating or bring their parents in and invite us t
o their graduation parties … it makes the job gratifying.”

Students, in turn, share a mutual respect for Pepin and the bar.

“We rarely have fights,” says Pepin.

“Dunbar’s is a place where people can come and not be harassed by other people,” he added.

On another level, Pepin referenced the occasional student who comes to him with problems, describing his encounters as “good experiences [and] good ways to meet an incredible amount of people.”

Colored by its traditions and marked by its longevity, Dunbar’s has had its fair share of interesting experiences.

Pepin recalls excitedly when NHL hockey player Joe Nieuwendyk ’88 brought the Stanley Cup to the bar one night and let fellow customers drink from it.

Like the students, Pepin enjoys the traditions, stating “It’s fun for us.” Dunbar’s also caters to the Cornell community with its St. Patrick’s day tradition of serving green beer, playing Irish music, and opening earlier than usual (at 8 a.m.) to celebrate the occasion.

Pepin’s interaction with Cornell students extends beyond the bar. Ever since his college days, Pepin has attended Big Red hockey games and is still an avid fan, saying, “I’ve only missed one home game in the last four years.”

He further shows his support by giving money to hockey boosters. Outside work, Pepin enjoys vacationing and attending horse races whenever possible, with his wife of 29 years. Though he has considered moving on, he maintains, “I wouldn’t trade my years here.”

Archived article by Adey Fettene