He was an Italian kid from New Jersey who came south to college.The time was 1949. The school was Furman. The kid was Vince Perone. For Greenvillians who remember his years as an all-star guard on the Furman Hurricane team in the early 1950s, who picked up tasty sub sandwiches or pickles from his delicatessen in the 1960s, or dined in style at his City Club in the 1980s, Vince Perone is not a historic figure. He is and he was a part of Greenville lore. But for others, and there are thousands, who wonder about the modest sign marking “Perone’s Corners” at the intersection of South Pleasantburg Drive and Antrim Way, the story of Vincent James Perone, a native of Hackensack, N.J., who made his career in Greenville, needs to be retold.
He came to Furman on a football scholarship when the program was struggling — the Hurricanes, then playing at Sirrine Stadium, hadn’t had a winning season since 1940.New Jersey (sometimes called the “Cuckoo State,” because, like the bird, it pushed its young out of the nest to go to out-of-state colleges, and they never returned) contributed three students to the starting lineup. They must have helped; by 1953, when Perone was team co-captain, the Hurricanes went 7-2, beating Florida State and upsetting West Virginia. He was all-State and All-Southern Conference. His college course was interrupted by military service during the Korean War, when he served in the Marine Corps, but he graduated in 1954 as an economics and business administration major.
By that time, he was married to his high school sweetheart, the father of two, and broke. Unimpressed by the skimpy sandwiches served at local lunch counters, he and his wife began making Italian po-boys, French bread sandwiches thick with spiced ham, bologna and cheese. First he peddled them (for a quarter apiece; milk was a dime more) in the Furman dorms, then at the university canteen.They were so popular that Carpenter Brothers and other downtown soda fountains began stocking them. After graduation, he and his wife, Joyce, made the sandwiches in the basement of their Meadow Crest Drive home. After a couple of years there were three children, and 4:30 a.m. basement sandwich-making became a chore.So In 1956 he leased a store at the corner of Laurens Road and South Pleasantburg Drive and opened Vince Perone’s Delicatessen and Restaurant. (It wasn’t much of a restaurant since it had no chairs or tables, but it did a good business in sandwiches. Furthermore it was there that he introduced pastrami to Greenville.)It became a family affair when his brother-in-law Emil Fritz joined the business and his mother moved to Greenville. A native of Sarleno, near Naples, Jenny Perone was an expert cook, and she set up a card table alongside the sandwich counter from which she purveyed “Mama” Perone’s lasagna, spaghetti sauce and cheesecake.
In 1961, while Vince was also working as an assistant football coach at Furman, he built a full service restaurant at the corner of Antrim Drive and Pleasantburg Road.Greenville loved this red-checked-tablecloth-chianti-bottle-red-sauce version of Italian cooking (now with tables and chairs), and the restaurant prospered.
By Judith Bainbridge
In 1966 Vince enlarged the restaurant, creating a formal dining room he named “The Forum.” It featured “gourmet” foods, including rack of lamb and lobster, never before seen on a Greenville menu.At a time when Greenville was woefully lacking in restaurants and night spots, the Forum was the place to go for a big night out. He offered dancing and music, booking Glen Miller’s Band, Count Basie’s orchestra. https://www.thecountbasieorchestra.com/, and Frank Sinatra, Jr. When the big band sound faded in popularity, it was the Four Freshmen and the Dreamers.The Forum became so popular that presidential candidate Ronald Reagan visited there to celebrate his birthday in 1980. When a huge birthday cake, carefully crafted by Mama Perone, was wheeled in as part of the celebration, Reagan was somehow jostled when he began blowing out the candles. He fell into the icing, smearing his suit jacket with whipped cream. It was taken away to be cleaned, but he needed the note cards outlining his speech that were in its lapel pocket. Before he panicked, however, a waiter appeared with the packet, and all was well. In 1985, as Greenville was becoming noticeably more sophisticated, Perone’s changed once more. He closed The Forum, reorganized and redecorated the space, and opened the restaurant as the membership-based City Club. In the first year some 1,500 members signed up.By that time, Perone had become a stalwart community leader and one of Furman’s most loyal and enthusiastic alumni. He had been named “Small businessman of the Year” by the Chamber, and was a director of the YMCA, the March of Dimes, and the United Way.With his friends C. Dan Joyner and Lewis Williams, he had been a prime mover in building 16,000-seat Paladin Stadium. After the 16,000 seat stadium opened, though, it had many empty seats even though the Paladins (the “Hurricane” name had been dropped when the university moved to the Poinsett Highway) under Jimmy Satterfield dominated the I-AA Southern Conference. He worked hard to encourage Greenvillians to attend and in 1988, when the team went 13-2 and beat Georgia Southern for the I-AA Championship, Perone immediately organized a Parade of Champions down Main Street to celebrate the accomplishment.The City Club lasted until 1996 when Vince, then 67, decided to — sort of — retire. He sold the restaurant and went into partnership with Bi-Lo, which wanted to carry his pasta salads. Eventually, some 300 Bi-Lo stores did so, and Vince became a quality control consultant. Vince Perone died of a rare blood disease in 2003. He was mourned by his family, his alma mater, and his community. In recognition of all that he had done for Greenville, City Council named Perone Corners for him and his restaurants.
By Judith Bainbridge
In 2014 we decided that it was time to bring back some of our family favorite recipes, Basil Marinara Sauce being our first. Mama Perone always had a big pot of Marinara simmering in the kitchen.