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Married to The Mob

By , - Last modified: March 1, 2011 at 2:56 PM

The Sopranos megahit is a real-life business
bonanza for the state

Anyone not sleeping with the fishes knows that The Sopranos is easily the hottest crime show on TV. But the HBO drama is more than just a megahit. From the opening credits to the final fadeout, it''s a pungent calling card and business generator for New Jersey.

A weekly bus tour takes visitors to the site of notable episodes—just like those Hollywood tours that show off film stars'' homes. Many of the spots have become celebrities by association. The mistress of mob boss Tony Soprano works at a real Mercedes-Benz dealership in Fairfield. When Tony''s crew seized control of a sporting-goods store, it was the real-life Ramsey Outdoor shop in Paramus. Even Rutgers University has sought to cash in, tapping alumnus James Gandolfini—who stars as mob boss Tony—for TV spots promoting Rutgers football.

In New Brunswick, diners with a taste for Soprano fare can lunch at Attilio''s Pasta Kitchen, an eatery co-owned by actor Federico Castelluccio, who plays hitman Furio Giunta on the show.

Attilio''s is not a stop on the bus tour yet, but it could be someday. The company On Location Tours of New York City visits Sopranos spots in Jersey City, Newark, Kearny, Paramus and Lodi. "Bada Bing is what they want to see the most and it''s the last stop on the tour," says On Location owner Georgette Blau, referring to the fictitious strip joint where Tony and his crew hang out. It''s actually a club called Satin Dolls in Lodi.

Blau calls The Sopranos tour one of her company''s most popular runs. Others include Manhattan locales for HBO''s Sex and the City series and locations where shows such as Friends and NYPD Blue are filmed. The four-hour Sopranos tour, which runs Saturdays and Sundays, averages 45 riders a trip. Some even dress up as characters on the show. As an added attraction, Blau signed up actor Joe Gannascoli—hitman Vito Spatafore on the show—to meet with the tour to sign autographs and chat.

In New Brunswick, Attilio''s Pasta Kitchen has its own show-biz roots. It''s a spinoff of Attilio''s in Denville, a restaurant owned by Gino Pesci, the cousin of actor Joe Pesci, who has also been a mobster on film. Sopranos actor Castelluccio was a regular at the Denville restaurant before landing the role of Furio. "When he said he got the part, we all said, ''no way,''" recalls Glenn Mauney, who handles daily operations at the New Brunswick dine-in/take-out restaurant.

Spicing up the menu are visits by Castelluccio. The actor makes time to drop by when he''s not filming the series, or scheduling promotional appearances, or starring on Broadway in the play Breaking Legs. "Maybe he''s here 20 minutes, maybe it''s a couple of hours," Mauney says.

Castelluccio and partners, including Mauney and Gino Pesci of the Denville Attilio''s, invested $320,000 to turn a two-story attorney''s office into a popular lunch spot. The hottest dish on the menu: penne pasta in pink vodka sauce for $5.50 a plate. Mauney says Attilio''s is on track to meet its business goals. "We didn''t come in here with outrageous expectations," he says.

Any link to The Sopranos can cause a stir. In Paramus, Ramsey Outdoor sporting goods gained a measure of fame after the store appeared in two episodes two years ago. "The funny part is when they shot the scenes here, the premise of the story was that the owner of the store was going out of business," says Marvin Stein, vice president of Ramsey Outdoor.

According to the plot line, the owner of the store could not pay off his gambling debts and lost it to the Soprano crowd. The episodes used the Ramsey Outdoor name and dressed actors in the same shirts that the store''s actual sales people wore. "We did get a lot of phone calls afterward from people who seriously thought the store was going to close," Stein says.

After assuring customers that the 50-year-old retail outlet was still open for business, Stein began to take advantage of the marketing potential created by the store''s appearance on the show. "I think they''ve billed the store as ''The place where Tony Soprano shops and so should you,''" says Steven Gorelick, associate director of the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission.

Gorelick says shows like The Sopranos can be a bonanza for the towns where they are filmed. Production companies are often voracious consumers of local goods and services. They rent out hotels and production studios. They buy food and lots of mundane items like stationery and lumber for props as filming proceeds. "That''s not including the cast and crew spending time and money in town," Gorelick says.

The Sopranos production team has plenty of cash to throw around whenever it films on location. "For dinner," says Jason Minter, assistant location manger for the series, "we always go to a local restaurant or diner and order $1,000 worth of food for our crew." Not a bad payoff for feeding America''s favorite TV mob.

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