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The Story of Giggino, From Nepal to Naples (via New York)

The incredible journey of Madan Budha, a Nepalese villager who came to America with a dream and became the front-of-house face of the fast-growing Neapolitan restaurant group Song E Napule

Song E Napule, the beloved Neapolitan pizzeria and trattoria of the incomparable Ciro Iovine, continues its rapid expansion beyond the cozy confines in New York’s Greenwich Village. First there was the satellite location in Rutherford, New Jersey in late 2021, followed by the opening earlier this year on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and now they have expanded into a much larger storefront down the block from the original location on West Houston. In obvious ways, the explosion of Song E Napule is symbolized by its owner, a veritable Vesuvius of enthusiasm, but there’s a serene figure, an ubiquitous presence in the front of the house at the flagship location who reflects the familial ethos of Song E Napule and exemplifies its success.

Madan Budha came to America in 2011 after winning the “Diversity Visa” lottery in his home country of Nepal. Raised in the mountainous countryside, with very little English, he arrived alone in Boston, where he lived in a basement. He found work as a dishwasher at Indian restaurants in and around the city. A fascination for Manhattan and the existence of a Nepalese community in Queens led him to New York City, where he lived and continued to work in restaurants of Jackson Heights.

Eager to experience the rush of Manhattan, he combed the streets looking for work. One day, he came upon a bustling, newly-opened Song E Napule on Houston Street, manned only by the husband/wife owners, Ciro and Austria Iovine (their young daughter on site), and a Mexican pizzaiolo called "Gennaro" (a Neapolitan nickname gifted to him by Ciro). Madan approached Austria and told her he really needed a job; she hired him on the spot to wash dishes.

The dishwashing gig led to delivery responsibilities and improved English. Ciro taught him how to make pizza. When Austria became pregnant again, she taught Madan the front of the house, and a smiling, personable, and ever-present young man from Nepal has been the face of a Neapolitan eatery in New York City ever since. He even earned his own nickname, given to him by Ciro when an episode of Little Big Italy was being shot in the storefront, and the owner insisted that his Neapolitan brother “Giggino” be included, thus formalizing his Neapolitan bonafides.

“I am so grateful for this opportunity provided to me by Austria and Ciro. I love to be in the front because I love to talk with the people. I like to travel, to see new places, to see new cultures, so when there are new people here, there is a new conversation. I love it,” Giggino says. “I’m so happy that I have this opportunity at Song E Napule, and Austria and Ciro, everyone here, are my family.”

So, yes: Award-winning food and great ambition can foster the type of growth Song E Napule has recently experienced, but a key component surely lies in the evidence of a kid from Nepal who came to New York and became a Neapolitan.

Address and information on all four Song E Napule locations can be found here.

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