It’s no coincidence that the series premiere of “The Capones” reality TV show — which debuts Tuesday on Reelz channel — kicks off with a suit-wearing, cigar-smoking Dominic Capone firing a tommy gun in a field. The scene is a nod to Al Capone, the prohibition-era gangster who Dominic claims was his great, great grandfather’s nephew.
Al has long been associated with murder, corruption and prostitution, but he’s often glorified in the entertainment industry, including on “The Capones” and at Capone’s Restaurant & Pizzeria in Lombard, which is co-owned by Dominic and his mother, Dawn.
“I wanted it to be a theme restaurant,” Dominic said Thursday at Capone’s, where he sat alongside his cast mates. “A lot of people don’t realize the Capones did a lot of good for people — more good than bad. You hear stories, and by the time you get to the grapevine it’s worse than it really was. Capone and his brothers wanted to feed people, and that’s what we’re doing at the restaurant.”
Dawn opened the restaurant in Bloomingdale in 1995 and moved it to Lombard five years ago. Al’s face can be seen on the restaurant’s logo (alongside the phrase “Try our Pizza or else …”) and in the photos and posters decorating the walls. Dawn said there was some backlash over the name and theme, but she’s dealt with it her whole life.
“We would get in fights every day on the way to school,” Dawn said. “Kids used to tease us. Everyday it was ‘Here come the Capones’ and then they’d pretend to have machine guns. … We (have) had a couple of phone calls, people didn’t like that we named the restaurant Capone’s. But I named it our name and I’m proud of who we are.”
Still, Dawn seemed somewhat reluctant about taking part in the show. She said she agreed to do it mostly because it would give more press to the restaurant. Dominic, on the other hand, admitted he was interested in the show because he enjoys entertaining people and making them laugh. The Cicero native previously appeared in R&B singer R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” series and played Al Capone in TLC’s 2001 TV movie, “The Real Untouchables,” among other acting credits listed on IMDB.
Bartolomeo Tumbarello also has an IMDB page with two movie credits, but he is introduced on “The Capones” as Dominic’s childhood friend who has been frequently in and out of jail. Tumbarello directed the documentary “Chasing Hollywood” with Tony Passarella, a producer on “The Capones.” Staci Richter — introduced on the show as Dominic’s girlfriend of 12 years — said she met Dominic when he visited an acting class she was taking. Rounding out the cast is Lou “Uncle Lou” Fratto, a toupeed mob nostalgist who sings under the name Lou Capri on YouTube; Dominic’s business partner Carmine Perrelli; and Dominic’s restaurant employees and friends Madeline “Cherry Lips” Santarelli and Jeff “Sausage” Vercillo.
In person, they seemed friendly, likable and level-headed, often distancing themselves from the mob. On the show? The friction is played up (Dawn smacks Richter with a loaf of bread during one of their many heated shouting matches, and Richter later shoots a gun at a tree and says she’s picturing Dawn) and so are the mob-like aspects (Dominic gives a police sergeant a rolex in an alley in one scene and has his friends chase after someone he says owes him money in another).
“How many times can the media continue to portray us this way?” said Louis Rago, president of the Italian American Human Relations Foundation of Chicago, by phone. “Look at the history of television. Fonzie from ‘Happy Days’ — nice kid, but a dumbbell. Vinnie Barbarino from ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ — nice kid, but could you get any dumber? Joey on ‘Friends,’ nice kid but a dumbbell. And then there’s Snooki, who is just horrible.
“Ninety percent of the people watching (‘The Capones’) will continue to think Italian Americans are a deez, dem, how you doin’, I’ll slap youz in the face people. Shame on that family for reducing themselves. They sold their heritage down the tubes for 15 minutes of fame.”
Dominic feels the criticism is unfair. “Watch the show first and then make that determination,” he said. “We’re good people. We’re not a bunch of greaseballs that walk around. I’m educated. I have a very strong financial background. We’ve all owned businesses for years. We don’t walk around in fedoras.”
Asked if he’s bothered by the mob stereotypes Italian-Americans often face in movies and TV shows, Dominic responded, “It’s entertainment. If people didn’t like mob movies, they wouldn’t make money. The numbers tell the truth.”
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