NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - George Sica is no stranger to reinventing himself.
At 14 years old (only a year after he came to the U.S. from Italy with his family), he dropped out of high school and became a hairdresser. He earned his general education development diploma while serving in the Army after being drafted for Vietnam. And when he came back, though highly underqualified, he managed to get a job at Prudential Financial where he stayed for 30 years until retirement.
Then, after a year of putzing around his house, the Mahopac resident bought Kingsley’s Deli and Pizzeria.
“I was off for one year—my wife used to complain that I was never home because for 30 years I left the house at 7 a.m. and came home at 11 p.m.—but after I was home for a year she said, ‘get out of the house and get a job,’” Sica said, while sitting in a booth at his June Road establishment.
He wasn’t really looking to own a restaurant, which was good considering Kingsley’s was one-half video store at the time, but he saw potential and felt a pull to put in an offer.
“I’m Catholic, very much involved with the Church and I believe in my faith and I believe things happen because God wants them to happen,” Sica said. “In 1998—I was never here before—and I passed by and stopped in the place and it looked like a morgue. They did very little business and as I looked at it, I said, ‘This is an opportunity that could be a gold mine.’”
The store wasn’t officially for sale, but, going with his gut feeling, Sica inquired anyway.
“I said (to the owner), ‘Do you want to sell the place?’ He said, ‘How’d you know?’ Sica said.
Things always just seemed to just work like this for Sica.
After training to become a hairdresser as a teenager, Sica opened his own shop in the Bronx named Loren, after Sofia Loren—“I was in love with her,” Sica said—and wouldn’t you know it, his future wife Marguerite liked to hang out at the coffee shop below his salon.
It was a Monday and the salon was closed. He was friends with the coffee shop owner and asked, not subtly, for an introduction.
“I said, ‘Aren’t you going to introduce me to these ladies?’ He said, ‘This is Marguerite and this is Barbara,’ so I said, ‘Hey beautiful ladies, I’m George,” Sica said. “Well this Marguerite, I guess she got nervous having tea with lemon because she wound up putting milk in and so that’s how I met her.”
Sica knew then that Marguerite was someone special, but Marguerite? Not so sure.
“I called her and somebody (he would later find out it was Marguerite herself) said, ‘She’s not here.’ I called her four or five times, every time, ‘Sorry, she’s not home.’ Maybe the sixth or seventh time she gave me her address,” Sica said. “Our first date was at Playland. After a couple of weeks, I said, what made you change your mind? Marguerite said, ‘It was my mother, she said go out with the guy; if he doesn’t kiss good, don’t go out with him no more.’
“I guess we were meant to be together,” Sica said.
The couple just celebrated 50 years of marriage, with four kids and eight grandchildren to show for it.
The Vietnam War did interrupt their courtship, however.
Two months after he was drafted, Sica was on a plane to Vietnam. A year into service, his arms and face were burned in a fire and it eventually led to his going back home.
“God was with me. The medics did a good job and in November 1967, two days before Thanksgiving, I get home,” Sica said. “After visiting my girlfriend and visiting my mother and father, I said ‘I have to go to a church and my mother said, ‘But the church is closed.’ I said, ‘It’s OK, I want to go inside. I have to say a prayer that I’m home.’”
After the war, Sica struggled to get back on his feet. He went to a friend who owned a beauty shop and asked to work for free “to get back into the swing of things,” but it was Marguerite who motivated him to look for a different career.
“I wanted to get married, but I was broke and had no money,” Sica said. On a whim, he called Prudential Financial thinking he could work a few hours on the side to make some extra cash while he brought in new salon clients. To his surprise, they offered him a full-time job.
“I never told him I didn’t have a car and Monday morning came…and I called the manager of Prudential and I said, ‘My car broke down. I can’t make it in today.’” Sica said. “He said, ‘I’ll send somebody to pick you up.’”
Once at the office in White Plains, Sica came clean about his car situation and thought it might mean it was his first and last day on the job. But for some reason, Sica never found out why, they asked another employee to drive him to work until he could get his own transportation, with a starting salary of $75 a week, plus commission.
“I went home and said, ‘Something’s wrong here. Either this company needs someone so bad or they see something in my future that I don’t, but here it is and I have to give it a chance,’” Sica said.
By the time he retired, he was the manager of an entire district of sales people working out of the office in Mount Kisco.
Things were less steady when he took over at Kingsley’s. Not long after buying the business, he bought the property, too. But then in 2004, much like Sica had done, a man came in and offered to buy it from him.
“One day this guy comes in and said, ‘My daughter is going to North Salem High School, I would like to buy your place,’” Sica said. “I said, ‘It’s not for sale. But for a price, anything is for sale.
“He gave me an offer and I said, ‘No, you have to change the numbers,’” Sica continued. “Two weeks later he changed the numbers and I agreed to sell the business to him.”
Sica stayed on as the landlord and the restaurant again in 2011 to a man named Joe Leo. Then, on Feb. 4, an electrical fire torched the building and because of the lease contract, the business became Sica’s again.
Sica stayed at Kingsley’s through the night of the fire watching, helpless as the emergency responders battled the blaze. The apartments above the pizzeria were destroyed. The inside was full of water and smoke damage and much of the equipment was trash.
In the morning, he had a decision to make.
“I decided I had to choose to rebuild,” Sica said. “I wanted to give the employees the opportunity to work cleaning up the place so they could continue to have an income. We became closer. We became like a family.”
From his hair salon and from his years at Prudential, Sica knew the value of loyal employees, and Kingsley’s has them in spades. The manager, Pete Mendola, who ran the place while Sica had back surgery, has been there for nearly a decade.
Through all the jobs he’s had, Sica said, it’s always been about the people he’s worked with and served.
“People are the blood that makes me tick and run,” Sica said.
Seeing his staff come together after the fire, Sica said, made him and his devotion to serving North Salem, stronger.
“It’s been my favorite job, of all of the above,” Sica said about Kingsley’s. “We do it with devotion and we do it with love. The business is only as good as the people we have working here. To me, if the staff is good, the business will prosper, and I have the best staff.”