Nick Mancini's friends and admirers say he was truly one of a kind, a master of hospitality. One of the many priests guiding the religious mass at Assumption Catholic Church in St. Paul said Mancini was no longer the maitre d' but God's honored guest for all eternity.
More 700 mourners filled the church beyond capacity. Hundreds more joined the procession behind Mancini's casket, which was carried in a horse drawn caisson down West Seventh St.
"He was the heart of St. Paul, he really was. There'll never be anybody like Nick again," says St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Coleman says he often used to go to Mancini's steak house with his father. The late Nick Coleman used to bring the DFL caucus to Mancini's in the early '70s. Coleman says Mancini credited that as the birth of his restaurant's reputation as the political hang-out in St. Paul.
"You can't go in there without the Legislature, or people having fundraisers, or labor groups," Coleman says. "Everybody goes to Mancini's. They started coming because of Nick."
People say Mancini treated you like a king or queen at his restaurant. It didn't matter if you were a politician or a factory worker.
Family and friends say Nick Mancini worked long hours at his restaurant. It started out as a tiny 3.2 beer bar in 1948. Since 1965, Mancini's bar has been an affordable steak house with a homey feel. The walls are lined with photos of local sports teams and local notables posing with Nick Mancini in the restaurant. Mancini also installed a Las Vegas-style lounge with big red sofa booths and a dance floor.
Family and friends say around the restaurant, Mancini would belt out his favorite tune, "My Way" by Frank Sinatra.
An accordion player squeezed out the melody as Mancini's casket was taken from the church.
And as local merchants and passers-by lined the street to watch, the song came wafting out onto the processional. Mancini's long-time family friends, Dick Jonckowski and Duke Larson sang along, and predict the crowd at the restaurant will be singing it too.
After a mile walk down West Seventh St., the cortege arrived at Mancini's Char House. There, Sun Country Airlines CEO Jay Salman recalled that he met Mancini in 1973 and became his good friend and lawyer. Salman credits Mancini for staying in St. Paul's West Seventh neighborhood during the hard times when families and businesses were moving out.
"It's a tribute to him to see what this street is right now," Salman says. "He is really single-handedly responsible for keeping West Seventh St. vital. That's his biggest contribution. Beyond that, he was the kindest, most giving guy I ever met."
Mancini regularly sponsored sports teams. His generosity went beyond his good nature. He was always buying drinks for customers and cooking up big meals for friends going through a hard time.
For the past several years, Mancini's sons, John and Pat, have been running the restaurant, as father Nick became sick with Alzheimer's disease.
"It's hard seeing a man like that that's been so vibrant his whole life," Pat says. "Alzheimer's is a very tough, tough disease. It strips you of a lot of things. But he always kept his dignity. And we've always helped him keep his dignity."
Mancini says he's overwhelmed by the outpouring and admiration for his dad. He says the greatest thing he learned from his father was generosity and humility.
"In giving, you receive. It's just amazing. There's nothing like friendship and making good friends. Money, buildings restaurants...it's all immaterial. It's really at the end of the day when you've got something like this, that's important. That's what I learned from my dad, always by example."
Pat says he and his brother John will continue to run the restaurant where they spent their days as kids, and then operated with their father for the past 25 years. Customers and friends alike say the sons will run Mancini's Char House with the same generous spirit as their father, Nick Mancini.