For Jersey Shore pizza king Charles Bangle, the summer of 2017 is shaping up to be a personal and professional roller-coaster ride.
In June, the neon marquee of the historic Strand movie theater is expected to glow again on the boardwalk of Ocean City, N.J., to announce the debut of a new Manco & Manco pizzeria/restaurant in the theater's 10,000-square-foot space.
Then, a week after Labor Day, Bangle is due to report to a federal prison to begin serving a 15-month term for tax evasion. It is unclear where he will be assigned in September.
Last week, as workers in hard hats tacked gleaming white tiles onto a newly restored marquee, Bangle showed up and seemed to be focused only on the ambitious new venture. He walked through the cavernous skeleton of what will become an air-conditioned, 210-seat restaurant with a full menu, a banquet/party space, and a Manco & Manco gift shop.
"People can't wait for this to open. … We might be one of the largest pizza shops on the East Coast," Bangle said in an interview that competed with the whir of power saws. The seating will be double the number found in Bangle's three other Shore pizza shops.
As for September? "No comment. I've got a plan, but I'm not going to go there," he said, shaking his head and then quickly changing the subject.
U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler agreed in February to delay the prison start date to allow Bangle to launch the new restaurant off Boardwalk and Ninth Street. Nearby is a twisting roller coaster and a salt water taffy shop.
Bangle owns the pizzeria businesses with his wife, Mary, the daughter of the late Frank Manco, one of the founders who started the first pizza shop, Mack & Manco, in 1956.
Mary, who admitted she lied to IRS agents during their probe into the company's finances, was sentenced in February to three years' probation.
The couple's lawyer, Laurence Shtasel, of Philadelphia, suggested to the judge in February that if Charles Bangle was incarcerated before Labor Day, the new venture might be in jeopardy and the Mancos might not be able to pay $248,560 in restitution to the U.S. Treasury.
"If the project is not completed, it could spell the ruin of this company. It could have an effect on many people: employees, the community, even the government," Shtasel said then.
The U.S. Attorney's Office initially charged Charles Bangle with concealing nearly $1 million in income from 2007 to 2011 and with failing to pay more than $330,000 in taxes. Bangle pleaded guilty to tax evasion involving a lesser amount and admitted that he made multiple bank deposits in increments below $10,000 to escape IRS scrutiny.
About 100 supporters had attended the sentencing and gasps were heard when Kugler imposed the 15-month sentence and called tax evasion a serious crime. Among those who spoke on Bangle's behalf were a parade of Ocean City government, business and civic leaders; firefighters; police; representatives of church and service organizations; and pizza shop employees who praised the couple for showing kindness when they encountered financial troubles.
Missing from the crowd in the Camden courtroom that day were customers who during the summer form long lines to get a slice or a pie from the popular boardwalk pizza shops.
But on a gray, drizzly day last week, the customers who occupied all the seats at the Manco & Manco at Boardwalk & 12th filled in the gap, offering rave reviews. Many of the adults said they had been coming there for pizza since childhood, drawn by the famous crispy thin crust and the rich tomato sauce swirled onto the pies with a "sauce hose."
Carol and Charles Martin, of Media, Delaware County, sat on the stools and smiled when asked why they were there. "I've been coming since I was real little, not even in school yet," said Carol, 65. "I love their pizza."
Three sister-in-laws -- Alexis Schneider and Jessica Tomassone, of Atco, and Maggie Schneider, of Sicklerville, Camden County – were also there with their combined brood of eight children, ages 9 months to 8 years old. "It's a well-known place, a monument down here," said Maggie Schneider. Two-year-old James Tomassone had his mouth full but managed a smile and a "thumbs up" when the children in their booster seats were asked for their food reviews.
The first of the pizza shops opened in 1956 as Mack & Manco and eventually grew to three shops. Mack & Manco later split up, and the Mancos and the Bangles took over the shops. The Mancos and Bangles also opened a fourth shop in Somers Point.
The Mancos recently gave up their lease on their Ninth Street pizzeria; it is expected to become a coffee shop.
Besides being significantly larger, the new Manco & Manco will offer more menu items, including wings and chicken tenders, and will offer more delivery runs, Bangle said.
But the pizza dough for all four shops will be created at one "off-site, secret location," he said.
The Strand, which opened in the 1930s and closed in 2014, was one of the last single-screen theaters in the area. "My wife, Mary, saw Jaws there," Bangle said. A construction worker at the site commented that he saw Star Wars at that theater.
Bangle said that he had to have the interior of the theater completely demolished. "The only thing that's still there is the girders," he said.
Bangle said he is leasing the building where he will open his newest restaurant.
In court he said that he was taking on additional debt and it was being "stretched out over a 20-year-period." He said he needed to make the investment so that he could grow the Manco brand and "stay in business."
This story has been corrected to reflect the business terms of the new Manco and Manco project.