By Angela Higginbotham
Joe and Georgette Cornello grew up worlds apart, but have called Mandarin home together since 2011. Joe grew up in Italy and Greece. His parents were victims of concentration camps. Around the age of 12, Joe began attending military school in Italy. Years later, not knowing a word of English, he made his journey to America. Alongside his uncle, Joe spent his time working in a factory making drill bits for the military. Proud of his new country, at 21 years old, he joined the United States Army, and served six months of active duty before entering the Army Reserves.
Joe saved his earnings and set out on his venture to open his own business in America. He made his way down to Flagler Beach, where he met Georgette’s father, a car repair man, who introduced the two. Originally from Detroit, Mich., Georgette and her family moved to Flagler Beach in 1975.
Georgette soon decided she would join Joe in his new restaurant venture and became co-owner. After running a successful business in Flagler Beach together, yet never having an official first date, Joe still knew he wanted to marry Georgette. They were married in 1980 and made their way to Jacksonville Beach to open another restaurant. As owners of three restaurants that employed many over the years, Joe and Georgette have always been passionate about both their community and their country.
The Cornellos often spend their time contributing their pizza making skills to the Italian American Club in Mandarin. They believe in helping their neighbors and appreciating the quality of life in America.
“There’s no country better than this. I know because I’ve lived outside,” Joe said.
- What do you enjoy most about living in Mandarin?
Georgette: We traded the beach for the trees when we moved here. Joe loves the trees. Mandarin has everything we need. Our friends are here and the Italian American Club is so close by. We really enjoy the area.
- Who does the Italian American Club serve and what activities does the club offer?
Georgette: The club is open to anyone who would like to come, but most of the people have ties to Italy. It really feels like home and family to us. It brings a lot of memories back for Joe and we can talk about anything there — anything from life in Italy to today’s politics. We have 80 – 100 people who attend on a regular basis and it’s just a great place to come together. We hold events for holidays and contribute to charities such as Camp I Am Special. The Festa Italiana event is coming up at the end of October, and everyone is invited. We also meet during the month for dinner and bingo, among other things.
- Besides your volunteer work at the American Italian Club, what do you enjoy doing with your time?
Georgette: Most of our time is either with the club or with our church. I was raised Greek Orthodox and Joe is Catholic, so when we married, I converted to Catholic. We serve coffee and donuts after mass and enjoy staying involved.
- What would you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Joe: I love my wife. I came to this country to better myself and I did that.
Georgette: I love my husband. We’ve had a lot of hard times, but we worked hard together for seven days a week in our restaurants. At first we didn’t make money, but we kept pushing forward and we were successful.
- As Italian food connoisseurs, where is your favorite place to eat Italian and what is your favorite kind of pizza?
Joe: We enjoy a variety of Italian restaurants around town, but we visit Olive Garden often. Margarita pizza is our favorite topped with sliced tomatoes and other fresh ingredients.
Photo by Angela Higginbotham
Georgette and Joe Cornello with their dog B.J.