Week’s Start: COVID-19 State, County, Local Updates & How to Help

Note: This story was updated to include stats and quotes from NJ Gov. Murphy’s Tuesday afternoon address on the COVID-19 situation …

From the state to the county and local level in New Jersey, the unrelenting “stay home” message in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic is getting more emphatic by the minute.

With New Jersey seeing a total of 18,696 as of Tuesday afternoon having tested positive for the virus, a jump overnight of 2,196 and 265 deaths (up by 69), three in their 30s, NJ Gov. Phil Murphy has continually pleaded with residents to just stay home to save lives and flatten the curve.

Citing the two young men who succumbed to COVID-19, but reaffirming that deaths from the virus tend to still hit the older and compromised community harder, Murphy stressed that the young mens’ deaths bring home the fact that “this is a reality for ALL of us.”

“I cannot be any clearer in my call,” the governor added. “Stay at home before this hits home. Please do your part to flatten this curve … We are not an average state. We are a “We can do the impossible” state. That is New Jersey. “Our job collectively is to stay at home and flatten that curve. If we do our part, we can meaningfully slow the spread and save lives … This is not about you, it’s about us. Now is the time to be selfless, not selfish … The very best thing we can do together is to stay home and to keep our distance from anyone else, even at home. “

NJ Gov. Phil Murphy, Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2020

The governor thanked everyone on the front lines, especially healthcare workers and emergency responders. He particularly pointed to the state’s “unsung heroes … home health aides, sanitation workers, retail employees, teamsters, truck drivers and transit workers. Their dedication means the world and it means that we will emerge from this stronger.”

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Leaving Home: Fair Haven’s Umberto’s

“Alright guys. Time to go home.”

That’s what Silvio Fabbri would have said about the closing after nearly four decades of his iconic Fair Haven pizzeria, restaurant and hangout, Umberto’s, his son Anthony mused in a chat with R-FH Retro early in March.

The embracing hometown haven, in operation since Jan. 4, 1984, with the Fabbri family always somewhere at the helm, was set to close its doors at 10 p.m. on March 28.

They were hoping for a great gathering of community and friends to see them off as they turned out the lights and locked the doors of their Fair Haven “home” for the last time. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the goodbye can’t be quite like that. It’s a bit empty. No gatherings. No handshakes. No hugs. Hearts are full, though, and retain every bit of “home” to keep them full for the Fabbri family.

Yes, “time to go home.” But, what happens when you are already home?

Umberto’s was home. Silvio Fabbri and his family made it their home. They made it their patrons’ home, too. Silvio became an icon to many a Fair Haven kid whose bike could be seen parked there after school, panting garlic knot and pizza breath with every eager pedal “home” for what was likely their second dinner. And they likely passed their parents on the road as they fetched that dinner from Umberto’s, Silvio having memorized their names and orders by heart.

Yes, the place was “home” for many. Silvio, always calm and cool, with a side-mouthed grin, greeting his many mischievous cherubs at the counter with a pizza flip, hand sign and a “Eyyyy … Hanga loose.” And like a parent, he’d often call you out if you hadn’t been in to see him in a while with a “Eyyyy. Why you no come a see me?”

So, in listening to the voice of Silvio in their hearts, the Fabbri family, while they know his posthumous “time to go home” is a consoling, take-it-in-stride push out the door, “home” was always Fair Haven for the Shrewsbury family — at least since 1984 when they came to town to run the place owned by Umberto and Dora Areno, thus the Umberto name.

While many initially thought that the Fabbri’s last name was Umberto, it was not. The name comes from the owner of the brick-and-mortar part of the business — the building. The Arenos also owned the business (part of it all) for the first seven years of the Fabbri family’s time working there — bringing their authentic Italian pizza- and food-making skills directly from “the foothills of Napoli” — running things. They had come to America in 1976.

It was on Nov. 26, 1991 that Silvio and his brother Michele (Michael in Italian) signed to papers to buy the business itself (not the building). They have rented the building from its owners since. Ironically, Silvio’s wife Maryrose pointed out, “Silvio died on Nov. 26, 2014.” An opening and closing date for Silvio. Called home, as they say.

Home. It means something different to everyone. But, what it means to Maryrose Fabbri is a matter of the heart and the power of place in that heart, too. She feels confident it was what was in her husband’s heart all those years, too. Home.

“We didn’t become millionaires with this business,” she said earlier in the month. “We didn’t become financially rich. But we got rich with the heart knowing so many different people here (considering them) and having them all here as our family.

“We joke about our houses in Shrewsbury. We sleep and shower there. But Fair Haven is where we live. The boys did all of their recreational sports, summer camp, everything here. Fair Haven is our home.”

She went on to say that Anthony, who took over running the business with her and uncle Michele after his dad (Silvio) died, wasn’t even 2 when he first came to know Umberto’s and Fair Haven as home. The rest, like Maryrose’s nephew Tony and Anthony’s children, were “born there,” so to speak, she said. It was home. Always.

In just about every home, there are family recipes, too. Family traditions.

Anthony, Maryrose and Michele and the rest of the Umberto’s Fabbri family are sad to leave home. Still, they smile as they say that while they do not want to reveal the new owners’ names, Silvio’s pizza will come with them — a comfort of home.

After coming to the sad reality that they could no longer afford the rent, but bearing no malice whatsoever, and vetting several offers, they sold the business to “a couple of really nice guys who Silvio taught to make pizza,” Maryrose said.

That much they were happy to say. Their fear and resistance in announcing the new ownership was, they said, that people might jump to unwarranted conclusions and would not give them the chance they deserve.

“We just want everyone to welcome them and give them a chance,” Maryrose said. “They truly are great guys. And they’re bringing Silvio’s pizza with them.”

They are also bringing their own great chicken wing recipe. In fact, it’s the same one people to which those who eat at Umberto’s have become accustomed. Silvio “taught them how to make pizza and they taught him how to make chicken wings,” Anthony said.

And there’s nothing like swapping a family recipe from one home to another. Tradition is a comfort recipe. It lives on, more so in this case, as the Fabbri family chose it to be so.

As for home and hearth stories, Maryrose said with a content smile, “there are just too many to talk about. So many. But, everyone knows one or a few to keep in their heart like we do.” And the visits and goodbyes … Coincidentally their very first customer, Matt from Acme, popped in, unbeknownst to anyone, while R-FH Retro was visiting. Then came a former Fair Haven neighbor (of this 54-year resident) and coffee shop icon, Trudi Williams. Moments. Family. Home.

And as with any home, someone is always there to lead the start of the day and end it. Usually, it was Silvio. Now Maryrose. “I’m the first one (now) who walks in the door, usually at 9:45 a.m.” she said. “And I’m the last to walk out. I make sure everyone walks out first before me. Sometimes that’s been 11:30 at night.”

So, on March 28 at 8 p.m., instead of the usual 10, the time it was supposed to happen, the lights went out and the door of Umberto’s was locked for the last time.

“Time to go home,” where your heart is, and “hanga loose forever.”

Thank you, Fabbri family, for bringing the true meaning of community “home” for all of us and our children. There’s no place like it … that slice of life in our hearts.

— Photos/Elaine Van Develde, exclusively for R-FH Retro

** Please, no copying for publication elsewhere, including photo albums to be shared on social media. If you would like a copy of a photo, please message me. Thank you.**

Retro RFH Cheerleader of Charity & Crew Cooking up Some Cheer

Everyone needs a little cheer these pandemic days, right? Area restaurateurs have been cooking up some special comfort food and charity to soothe souls and fill bellies amid the COVID-19 crisis. We heard recently how Chris Wood, known as Woody, owner of Woody’s Ocean Grill in Sea Bright, offered his restaurant’s menu on pay-what-you-can basis.

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U.S. Attorney: 24-Year-Old Charged with Producing, Distributing Child Porn

A Monmouth County man was arrested at his home this morning by special agents of the FBI and charged with producing and distributing images of himself sexually assaulting a child, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

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CHAMPS: RFH’s Fed Challenge Team

They met an economic challenge and conquered it as champs.

Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School’s (RFH) Fed Challenge Team has been dubbed Group Champions of the High School Fed Challenge, hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

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Scene Around: Soothing Sunrise, Sunset Moment

Distancing. It’s a necessity these days. Yet, sometimes a little distance leads to appreciation. A new perspective. A dawn. That promise of a new day. The light that reminds us that it is there as darkness falls. The light that always appears after the darkness.

Solitude can offer solace. Taking several steps back to be drenched in sunlight’s promise, a stark view, uncluttered by fear and confusion. The comfort of isolation. The embracing call of the light, close in the distance.

Sometimes a furry best friend who doesn’t know how to distance makes the view just a little sweeter, too. Rumsonite Sue Hill-Spakowski and dog Nancy took in this sunrise, sunset view at Sandy Hook’s Fort Hancock and its perspective as COVID-19 stats rose and fear enveloped the area.

Call it serenity in a snapshot. And Nancy rose with the sun on this. She just didn’t want to move for the full view. That’s OK. She was stepping into the light. Illuminated Rumson dog.

Look for the light. Embrace it. Stay safe, all!

Area Restaurateurs Filling Plates with Comfort Food During Covid-19 Crisis

With full plates of COVID-19 stress, area eateries’ are approaching the crisis with a plates-half-full and cups of comfort running over mentality. NJ Gov. Phil Murphy’s stay-at-home edict has prompted the closed for eat-in area delis, markets and restaurants to heap a good portion of help onto that stressed dinnerware — at a safe distance.

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Retro RFH Troops Rallying

A little tribe of RFH troops in the 1970s
Photo/George Day

Sometimes it’s just time to call in the troops. For a break. For a laugh. For a reminder of some vigilant banding together laced with fun. Times are tough right now with COVID-19 and its implications, social distancing, virtual school, stress of the unknown and known and fear … growing and waning.

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