John Banco lived his “American Dream” down at the Riverside
By Donna Federanko-Stout
“Pop’s Place was a family place, a neighborhood place, a place where people gathered.” daughter, Olga says. “The hub of the town,” daughter, Flora
recalls. They smiled, “He liked people.”
Elkinton’s Grove provided quiet, relaxing enjoyment to visitors to the Penns Grove shore in the early 1900’s. Situated on the north side of the Steamboat
Pier, the Elkinton property consisted of several buildings, one of which housed the trolley car waiting room. After the passing of her husband, Mrs.
Elkinton continued to hold ownership of the properties, but in the mid 1930’s, most were closed or boarded up with the exception of the end building which
housed Lubin;s Pharmacy. Behind the building sat the Riverside Theatre, a silent movie and vaudeville house.
Around the same time, John Banco and his brother were owners of a grocery store on the corner of Walnut Street and Cumberland Avenue. It was a good
business. Many neighbors, who were also from their native Italy, along with other townspeople shopped at the store. It was the days of the Depression
and the days of Prohibition, but both would soon come to an end.
“My father was the first to bring beer back to Penns Grove,” says Flora Banco. “When they repealed Prohibition, Pop went to Camden and brought back a
keg of beer that he shared with the other Italian men in the neighborhood: Mr. Massari, Mr. Ficcadenti, Mr. Ascenzi, Mr. Cataldi,” Olga (Banco) Stalcup
adds. “Then he decided to get a license and open up a place.”
John Banco got a license and opened up a little place across the street from the grocery, his first place. He wanted to have a neighborhood place, like the
kind they had in Italy, where people gathered to talk, to drink, to eat and enjoy. “Pop never served alcohol without food on the counter. A little cheese,
some meat, something,” says Olga.
Business was good and John was soon scouting around town for another place to serve more people…by the water, maybe. That’s when he came
across the Elkinton properties and soon he had an agreement to rent the old Trolley Waiting Room for the cost of $15 per month. This was Pop’s new
“I remember there were really high ceilings and Pop put in ceiling fans,” says Flora. It was called Banco’s Riverside Café.
Not much bigger in size than the bar itself, the Riverside did a wonderful business, so wonderful in fact that soon John was asking to rent another portion
of the building to make into a dining room (for an additional $3 a month). After Mrs. Elkinton’s death, John entered into an agreement to purchase the
property and the Riverside and its properties became his.
“When Pop bought it all the buildings were separate with alley ways in between,” says Olga. “Pop connected all the buildings together.” You can still see
remnants of the past when you stand in the kitchen area of what is now Banco’s Riverside Pantry. There’s an original shuttered window to the left from the
one building and an original wooden window to the right from the old Trolley waiting Room. An outside tin wall of the Silent Movie Theatre (which was
razed in 1968) remains as part of the kitchen wall. On the outside wall, when the brickwork was being done, mason/contractor Sylvio Martell placed the
initials J B at the topof the building for all to see. “He did that on his own,” Olga says.”My father never asked him to, he just did it.” An editorial that ran in
the Penns Grove Record at the time, commended John Banco for taking a boarded up building and “turning it around” into a thriving business.
And thrive it did. “People came from all over for our seafood,” says Flora. “There was music and dancing,” Olga says, “and everyone always had a good
Over the years, John would convert the Silent Movie House into a recreational center. Fighters like Joe Firpo boxed there, and area kids would skate, play
basketball and enjoy all kinds of activities there too. “ Pop was always fixing it up to accommodate whoever wanted to use it, especially if it was for kids. He
loved kids. “ says Flora. Both Flora and Olga spent some time helping out at the Riverside, sister, Bea, also. Flora learned the tavern business from her
father and many times Olga cooked and waited tables.
Brother John was just a tyke when dad ran the Riverside. Their mother, Mary (Montagnoli) Banco, whose family was the first Italian family to settle in
Penns Grove, was the first Italian child to enter the public school system in Penns Grove at the old wooden school on Harmony Street.
John retired from the Riverside in the mid 1950’s, and the property has remained in the Banco family and today houses Banco’s Riverside Pantry. During
Flora’s recent illness, Olga, niece, Adele and brother, John have been following family tradition, working together in the family business. Something they
learned from their father. “He was a great teacher,” Flora says.
“Pop was a progressive man. A man ahead of his time,” Olga says. And once again, the Riverside will see the waterfront prosper, in the not too distant
future, just like John always knew it would be…there will be laughing, eating, drinking, talking once again by the “Riverside.”