Cirino and his wife Giovanna Caniglia came from Sicily and started a bakery in Little Italy in 1920. After World War II, their sons brought pizza to Omaha from the East Coast. The bakery became Caniglia’s Pizzeria in 1946.
In the 1910s, a small building just north of 30th and Fort Streets housed the Post Cafe, a small diner for soldiers at Fort Omaha and the Miller Park neighborhood behind it. In 1933, Gendelman Fruit Store opened at 5319 North 30th, and in 1948 it became the Marshall Drive Inn, with carhops on skates and teenagers with hotrods roaming freely with burgers, fries and Coke. It was the place to be.
In 1953, Cirino and Giovanna’s son, Sebastiano “Yano” Caniglia, bought the Marshall Drive Inn far from his family in Little Italy. Renamed Caniglia’s Royal Boy Drive-In, the restaurant was located across the street from Fort Omaha, which was then a Navy base. A popular joint for North High students, the place served pizza burgers and milkshakes that still stick in the minds of the people who remember them.
Reflecting Omaha’s defacto segregation during this era, it was common knowledge that Mister C’s refused to serve African Americans in the dining room. According to Nebraska State Historical Society historian David Bristow, Jim Crow ensured that African Americans could only pick up take-out orders from the back door of Mister C’s restaurant, and other accounts suggest they weren’t allowed to seat inside until 1963.
Mr. C’s wasn’t a fancy building when Yano opened his business. However, over the years he expanded greatly, adding a basement and bars, an outdoor seating area, and eventually a large, gated parking lot. The entrance to the restaurant became grandiose, and the entire ambiance of the establishment was eventually warm and fancy, and welcoming to everyone who came.
In 1971, Yano and his wife Mary rebuilt the restaurant and reopened it as Mister C’s, an Italian steakhouse. A dark, cozy interior alit with Christmas lights and murals, there was also a large outdoor seating area made to look like an Italian villa. Yano bought the AkSarBen Grand Champion Steer yearly, and used that to advertise the quality of his food and the commitment he had to Nebraska beef. Each of Yano and Mary’s children, Larry, Tom and David, worked at the restaurant at some point.
Yano was notorious for his warm, kind attitude and welcoming embraces of longtime customers. Singing off-key or playing the mandolin, he’d often sit down and talk with guests, sharing stories and talking about food, Italy and Omaha. Later, there was also a hired violinist who roamed the room.
Mister C’s restaurant was used for all kinds of gatherings, including family reunions, weddings, class reunions and more. Two bars served the restaurant, with one for couples and families and the other for more… social activities. Antiques and knick-knacks filled the lobby, and the decor often took diners into a warm, happy space. The Italian-style village outdoors was a large open space with tables, plants and a two-story villa-type facade. The entire restaurant was surrounded by a tall fence, separating it from the downturned Miller Park area it originally served.
After staying open for more than 50 years, the restaurant closed in 2007, and Yano Caniglia passed away in 2013.
Today, the entire restaurant is gone and replaced by a beautiful new building that adds possibilities and hope to the Miller Park neighborhood. However, you can still see a piece of Mister C’s at the Durham Museum: the mural from the main dining area is now behind a historic Omaha streetcar. Mister C’s Spaghetti Sauce is also sold in Walmart and other stores across Nebraska, too!
You Might Like…
- A History of North Omaha’s Miller Park Neighborhood
- A History of Fort Omaha
- A History of the Intersection of 30th and Fort
- A History of the Intersection of 24th and Fort