An Interview with Hoboken Legend ‘Brother Biggie’ of Biggie’s Clam Bar

We spend our whole lives working towards something remarkable – maybe it’s traveling the world, or starting a family, or landing a dream job. Whatever it may be, we give it our all and hope that one day we’re remembered for doing what we loved and being amazing at it. Brother Biggie,  formerly Mike Yaccarino, has built a legacy of making people feel at home. The second-generation owner of the Hoboken-founded and beloved restaurant Biggie’s Clam Bar is known for several things, including running an eatery that has fostered the spirit of the community for decades – and for shucking clams like no other.

The original Biggie’s outpost in Hoboken may be closed, but the “Biggie’s Way” street name on the corner of 3rd and Madison in Hoboken forever marks the contributions of the Yaccarino family in Hoboken. Read on to learn more about Brother Biggie including what it was like growing up in Hoboken, following in his father’s footsteps, and what to expect at the Biggie’s Clam Bar Carldstat location.

Growing up in Hoboken

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Born in 1931 just as the Great Depression began to sweep the country, Brother Biggie was the newest addition to the Yaccarino family who lived at 402 Madison Street. It wasn’t uncommon to have several members of a family live in the same building, in fact, it was one of the things to made Hoboken such a tightly-knit town. 

“My mother’s sister used to live in the same building. She helped my mother raise her seven kids,” Brother Biggie told Hoboken Girl. “We enjoyed the closeness of my parents and each other,” he said of his siblings. “I was in the middle of four sisters and two brothers.”

When he wasn’t attending class at Demerest High, he was playing basketball in the park with friends who lived on the same street.

“We would go swimming in the north street park in Jersey City.” An all-around sports fan, when Yogi Berra or Joe DiMaggio didn’t get a hit, he refused to eat. 

Growing up in Hoboken at that time, he and his friends had to put their creativity to use. “We grew up poor but my friend group was solid. We used to make our own scooters with a vegetable box and skates, play stickball, and run under the fire hydrant to cool off on hot days.” 

But his father’s business always came first. Brother Biggie spent most of his time working.

“We didn’t eat out much. It was a treat to go to Leo’s – where I had my first drink. We didn’t go down the shore much either. We enjoyed watching the annual Ragamuffin parades, going to the St. Anne’s feast, going to the Oxford Social Club, watching Maria Pepe making history as the first girl to play Little League Baseball, and listing to Sinatra.”

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Brother Biggie was drafted to fight in the Korean War in 1952 where he served as a corporal in the U.S Army. 

Luckily for him, when Brother Biggie came back from serving, he didn’t have to look far to find the love of his life.

“My wonderful wife lived on the corner of 4th and Monroe. Once we got married, we lived in our 4th-floor apartment at 417 Madison Street and later purchased our first house at 729 Garden Street where my sister and her family lived upstairs, and my wife’s father and sister lived downstairs,” he explained. Together they had Rose Marie and Judy.

Founding Biggie’s Clam Bar

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When he was five, the family moved a block down to 318 Madison Street into a two-family. “The building was located rear of a grocery store. Later, that store became the home of Biggie’s.”

Brother Biggie’s father, Joseph, was born in Naples and his mother, Rose, was born in San Giacomo, Italy. After immigrating to Hoboken in 1900, Joseph started off as a fruit peddler in Fairview. Later, he became a maintenance man at City Hall, while pursuing a career as a stand-up comic where he got the nickname “Biggie.” 

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^ Joseph in front of the original Biggie’s

If you were wondering how Brother Biggie got his nickname, well it’s simple, “When my daddy was a comedian, they all used to call each other “brother”, it’s how they greeted each other – and well, one thing led to another and it stuck!”

“In 1941, he started working on 5th and Jefferson with a pushcart making six stops at Hoboken taverns, selling two clams for nickel,” Brother Biggie explained. “I carried the pail for my father while he shucked clams.” 

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That clam pushcart became well known in town and soon, it bloomed into something bigger – Biggie’s Seafood House, an outpost at 506 Jefferson Street. The eatery was such a hit that the Yaccarino family opened Biggie’s Clam Bar in 1946 where they had a 60-year history.

Read More: Nellie Moyeno: A Q+A With This Longtime Hoboken Resident

Recognizing his passion and knack for business, In 1985, Brother Biggie’s father passed the restaurant down to him, and he hit the ground running, starting with making the restaurant open 12 months a year, instead of seasonally. “My wife, Marie, worked with me in the restaurant. She was known for her homemade meatballs,” he explained. 

Biggie’s became a touchstone for neighborhood locals. Many of the teenagers worked at the restaurant over the years – many who became firefighters, policemen, and city workers – all who stayed loyal to the restaurant, always stopping in for a hot meal. 

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“We had a true family atmosphere. My wife was really the backbone of the business. I’ll never forget when one of the guys who worked at Biggie’s  told me that I was like a father to him. That meant a lot to me,” says Brother Biggie. “I always told the guys working at the restaurant to remember three things – school comes first, have self-respect, and treat the customers like family.”

In 2014, Brother Biggie received the “Man of the Year” award by the Juventus S. Club for his contributions in Hoboken. Something that he holds dear to his heart. “At first, I didn’t want to go for it but my daughter told me to and so I did and I cherish that award now.”

From Generation to Generation

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“I was fortunate to have my son-in-law Steve join the business in 1983 and in 1995, I transitioned the business to him and my daughter Rose Marie. He was amazing. He remodeled our flagship and made it more modern. He had the idea to open the Carldstat location.”

And that’s just it. Anyone who walked into Biggie’s was (and is) treated like family – something Brother Biggie’s father taught him, what he taught his children, and later, his grandchildren who now manage the current location in Carlstadt.

Now, fourth-generation owners, Stephen and Michael continue the Biggie’s legacy. “We are celebrating 12 years at this location and I am so proud to be here with Steve and my grandsons,” says Brother Biggie.

What to Expect at Biggie’s

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Biggie’s offers an array of classic Italian and American dishes, but we would be remiss not to highlight the two things the eatery is best known for – clams and a cheesesteak with sausage and peppers.

You just can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. Apps include mussels, calamari, coconut shrimp, mozzarella sticks, and wings. The soup and salad options vary with the clam chowder being the fan-favorite.

The raw bar boasts half calms on the shell, a sampler, oysters, and a seafood salad.

Pro Tip: the clams + oysters come seven different ways, but the Casino is a must-try.

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The menu also features pizza, burgers, sandwiches, and entrees like rib-eye steak, chicken parmesan, and baby back ribs.

See More: The Life of Longtime Hoboken Resident, Michael Johnson

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The food will get you there in the first place, but the charm and warmth of the restaurant will keep you coming back. The walls are covered in photos of the original Biggie’s location in Hoboken, family moments like Joseph’s clam cart, Marie hand-rolling meatballs in the kitchen, and running a clam stand at the St. Ann’s feast. 

Family – that’s what comes first at Biggie’s. 

Brother Biggie himself dines there at least once a week with his family, greeting everyone who walks through the door and offering friendly conversation. 

What Brother Biggie is Up to Now

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For 12 years, Brother Biggie and his lifelong pals of over 80 years have had a standing Monday-night Scala session at his nephew’s home – Frank Palmisano. “No matter what, every Monday, we’re there. We play, share a light dinner, and of course, cake and coffee from Carlo’s Bakery,” he shared. “We reminisce about our younger days and the friends we’ve lost.”

His go-to restaurant in Hoboken now? Il Tavolo di Palmisano, of course. His nephew Frank — also known as “Frankie boy” — is a retired Battalion Chief who is a part-owner of Biggie’s Clam Bar and took his knowledge of the restaurant industry and opened his own restaurant in the Mile Square. 

“I also love Augustino’s, Leo’s, and Fiore’s for lunch!” he told Hoboken Girl.

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At 90 years old, Brother Biggie has seen a lot, accomplished a lot, and has no plans of slowing down. Well known for being a pillar in the Hudson and Essex County communities, Brother Biggie has created a legacy of mentoring the neighborhood’s youth, offering everyone a seat at his table, and whipping up a clam on a half shell faster than you can say “Biggie’s Clam Bar”!

See our video interview with Brother Biggie here:

 

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Victoria is HG's Associate Editor and Social Media Coordinator for the Hoboken Historical Museum + Fire Department Museum. She is a fourth-generation Hoboken native, BNR in the Mile Square, and Jersey City. Through playing softball in town for fourteen years, playing the trumpet for the Hoboken High School Redwings Band, and graduating from New Jersey City University, these two cities have a special place in her heart. When she isn’t Style Assisting or volunteering at Symposia Bookstore, she’s exploring everything the Concrete Jungle has to offer. You can catch her at art exhibitions, local festivities, traveling, diving into a new book, thrifting, or indulging in some form of arts and crafts.