Rich Pèpe has just returned from what he described a “whirlwind trip” where the city of Hoboken honored him and his childhood friend at the local chapter of the Hudson County Boys and Girls Club.
Mayor Dawn Zimmer awarded the “key to the city” to Emmy Award-winning actor Joe Pantoliano and restaurateur Rich Pèpe, who grew up in Hoboken together back in the 60’s. Pepe & Joey launched their line of pasta sauce last year named Pepe & Pants, and the profits go toward charities dealing with mental health issues. NKM2 (no kidding, me too) is the pair’s non-profit charity: www.nkm2.org
The event on December 7th, dubbed “An Evening with Two Guys from Hoboken,” also served as a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club. Sponsors, including the Hoboken Rotary Club, the Hoboken Housing Authority and real estate developer Frank Raia, sat at tables with kids from the Club, alternating seating between adult and child.
Together, over 300 guests enjoyed a vintage Italian meal prepared under Pèpe’s supervision, and which featured their own Pepe & Pants pasta sauces.
Immediately after dinner, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club Gary Greenberg introduced several speakers.
Mayor Zimmer spoke on behalf of Hoboken and highlighted Pepe & Pants’ mental health charity.
Hudson County Freeholder Anthony Romano represented the county to thank Pèpe and Pantoliano, and State Assemblyman Ruben Ramos and State Assemblywoman Joan Quigley spoke on behalf of the state of New Jersey. Both the county and state issued legislative proclamations on behalf of the duo.
Both Pèpe and Pantoliano echoed the sentiments of optimism and giving back when they spoke to the audience at the end of the ceremony. The two men come from modest, working class means, and Pantoliano grew up living in the Hoboken Housing Authority.
Pèpe’s grandparents emigrated to Hoboken exactly 100 years ago from Italy. “They arrived with $20 in their pocket,” he explained. “They were hardworking, honest people, community minded in this wonderful town called Hoboken.”
Pepe and Joey moved to California when they were 21 years old where Pantoliano pursued acting and Pepe embarked on a career in the restaurant and baking businesses. Pèpe was happy to have returned to Hoboken alongside his friend.
“It’s great to be back. Joey and I grew up together, we kept our friendship alive, and hopefully the children here at the Boys & Girls Club will make some bonds and friendships and create families.”
Pantoliano then touched upon his own struggles as a child, including poverty and feelings of loneliness and sadness, and urged the kids in the audience to talk to their parents and friends whenever they feel bad about something. “You might find that they say, “no kidding, me too,” he said.
Then, pointing to his friends Pèpe and Frank Raia as examples, Pantoliano inspired the children to follow their dreams.
“You need to leave here tonight knowing that if these guys can make something of themselves, that it’s going to be easy for you to do the same thing.”
Before the festivities even started, Pantoliano, who still maintains a residence in Hoboken, was already growing sentimental about the occasion of helping the community, seeing old friends and feeling at home. “It’s not about me being honored,” he said. “It’s about me being home and here with these people and these kids.”
Click to see video of Pepe and Joey cooking live on WPIX.