The North End Cannoli-Shop Shooting: “The Craziest Thing Is That He Missed”

Longtime restaurant owner Patrick Mendoza and neighbor Rocco Giovanello may not be famous names, but around Boston's rapidly changing North End, their decades-long blood feud—which culminated outside Modern Pastry—is the stuff of legend. A molto dolce legend.

Photo illustration by Benjamen Purvis

A little before 11 p.m. on a hot summer night on Hanover Street, everything in the North End was business as usual. Old-school locals talked in an animated huddle on the sidewalk, pausing in unison to watch a new-school neighbor passing by wearing a Connecticut-tight ponytail and dressed in head-to-toe Lululemon. The owner of Dolce Vita Ristorante serenaded the last patrons out of his eatery. And a line of people seeking arguably the nation’s best cannoli stretched outside Modern Pastry.

This nightly ritual is part of the lifeblood that pumps through Boston’s Little Italy, as well as through the veins of Patrick “Pato” Mendoza—a wiry 54-year-old with gray braids and bad-boy good looks—who pedaled by on a bike that evening with a snub nose .38 revolver stuffed in the waistline of his pants.

Pato, who owns the North End eatery Monica’s Trattoria, knew these streets well, but every day, he knew fewer people on them. All around were tourists and newcomers, the very people who many longtime residents of the North End complain about, saying they are sucking the soul out of the neighborhood with their endless cry-babying about how weekend feasts eat up parking spots and about restaurant crowds spilling onto the sidewalks. Pato had long been a vocal critic of Boston Mayor Michelle Wu for apparently supporting these complainers by assessing fees for outdoor dining in the neighborhood. In fact, he had even sued her over it.

Patrick Mendoza in July 2023. / Courtesy of Boston Police Department

On this night, though, Pato’s ire was focused on someone else who had pissed him off: Rocco “Rocky” Giovanello, a 60-year-old painter who lives in an apartment over Modern Pastry. And filing a lawsuit against him wasn’t what Pato had in mind. The two men had known each other for decades but were most definitely not friends. In fact, they were embroiled in a long-standing feud that had brought out each other’s darkest impulses, a series of back-and-forth gotchas that started decades earlier.

Pato and Rocky’s cycle of retaliatory attacks was hardly the first blood feud of its kind between guys in the North End with bad tempers, access to weapons, and long memories. The neighborhood has historically been a place where Old World Italian sensibilities have been a way of life, and many of the North End’s original residents are as proud of that as they are of their ability to settle their own issues without involving the cops. “This neighborhood is like a tiny village in the old country,” says a North End restaurateur who asked not to be identified because he says he doesn’t “want to be accused of talking out of school” about his lifelong neighbors. “[Pato and Rocky] are two guys, good guys mostly. When all is said and done, this is an incestuous feud in a tiny Italian neighborhood where people are known to take shit personally. It’s a village. But it’s our village.”

Lately, though, as a result of the North End filling up with affluent newcomers and many of its older, longtime residents fleeing to suburban homes on the North Shore, the kinds of feuds you increasingly see are more akin to the legal battle between North End restaurateurs and Mayor Wu. Nowadays, glimpses of violence rooted in ancient values carried over from places like Calabria and Sicily are seldom seen. But they’re not out of the question.

There are some holdouts who help sustain the North End’s reputation for using strong-arm tactics to solve neighborhood issues. In 2020, armed residents showed up in force to safeguard local shops from potential looting after George Floyd’s death. And they don’t keep quiet when they think their way of life is being threatened. North Enders went to war to keep a Starbucks from opening in the neighborhood, and Pato, plus a handful of other restaurant owners, kept their establishments open during the pandemic in defiance of the COVID-19 lockdowns and what they believed was government overreach into the neighborhood’s affairs.

To those Old World types, Rocky had done something that was simply verboten: In 2019, he went to the cops and ratted out Pato after Pato allegedly beat him and threatened him with a knife. Even worse, Rocky went back to the police after that to report small slights that he claimed came from Pato. And so, as Pato pedaled to find Rocky that hot summer night, perhaps he was defending not just his honor, but also a dying code in a tradition-bound neighborhood that was fading before his eyes.

The Mendoza family founded Monica’s in the North End in 1995. This summer, Patrick “Pato” Mendoza allegedly fired a gun at his nemesis Rocco “Rocky” Giovanello, missing him and striking the window of Modern Pastry (above) on Hanover Street. / Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

It wasn’t so long ago that the North End was as famous for its mafia hit jobs as it was for its homemade meatballs. The neighborhood’s tango with the mob began back in the 1910s, and from then until 1983, when federal law enforcement agents rounded up the Angiulo brothers, the capos of the era, there was always a mafia boss to keep people in line. Plenty of low-level, trigger-happy enforcers tried to fill the power vacuum that ensued in the North End after the Angiulos’ arrest, but none ever achieved the vaunted status of an all-powerful mafia boss. Today, there is no obvious mob presence in the North End and no enforcer keeping order, leading some older, lifelong North Enders to yearn for the days when the Angiulos were around and, as one of them said, “punks paid a price.”

Both Rocky and Pato are likely the kinds of punks for whom the capos of yesteryear would have had little patience. According to a source in the North End, one year during Saint Anthony’s Feast in August, when the streets were swollen with people, Rocky spotted a Boston Police horse tied up. He allegedly took advantage of a moment when the officer wasn’t paying attention, untied the horse, mounted it, and took off down the street toward the Old North Church à la Paul Revere, with cops chasing behind him on foot. The story has become North End legend.

Nothing about the incident appears in Rocky’s police record, but if it is true, it may have been the first time Rocky tried on the look of someone who maintains law and order. It wouldn’t be his last, though. Over the years, he became known in the North End for trying to enforce justice, or at least what he thought was justice. “He was the sheriff no one asked for,” said a North End beat cop who often dealt with Rocky over the years and asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

One of Rocky’s early attempts to maintain order involved a family member. One night in late December 1999, Rocky and his brother, Joseph, got into an argument that quickly escalated. Rocky pulled out a .38 caliber gun, pointed it at his brother and their father, and threatened to kill them both, or so Joseph later told police. Joseph also told police that he’d managed to take the gun from Rocky, who then took off running. Joseph ran behind the North End ice-skating rink, he later told police, and tossed the gun into Boston Harbor.

Still, Rocky wasn’t finished. Six days later, he returned to the family apartment on Prince Street with a knife, Joseph told the police. Inside, Rocky found Joseph and his father eating dinner and once again threatened to kill them. Rocky was arrested on assault charges. (The charges were dismissed.)

In 2013, Rocky played enforcer again, this time with a total stranger. Susan Bigusiak had recently moved to the North End and had an idea for monetizing the history and culture of the neighborhood. She began offering tours to visitors, calling one of them “The Pizza and Paisan Tour.” Rocky didn’t like her using the word paisan, which means fellow countryman, or even friend, and neither did a lot of the old-timer Italians, Rocky told her, according to a Boston Police report. Not only was Bigusiak an outsider to the North End, but Rocky and others presumed she wasn’t even Italian.

Instead of merely grumbling about the newcomer’s business venture, though, Rocky decided to take a more proactive approach. On a rainy evening in June 2013, Bigusiak told police, she was inside a restaurant on Salem Street when Rocky came through the door and walked up to her. “Who the hell do you think you are using the word paisan in the name of your tour?” she told police Rocky shouted at her.

Bigusiak tried to explain to Rocky that the word was not a derogatory term. Rocky wasn’t swayed and continued railing against her until he stormed out of the restaurant, according to her account to the police.

He wasn’t done, though. The next day, when Bigusiak was strolling to dinner with her niece, she told police that Rocky went after her again, informing her that he was going to take down all the postcards in the neighborhood advertising her tour. Feeling threatened, Bigusiak decided to do something about it. A few days later, according to the police report, she walked up to an officer who was working outside of a construction site and explained to him what had happened with Rocky over the course of the past week. The officer noted in his report that “her lips were quivering with fear” as she recounted the story. Bigusiak summoned the courage to tell the officer where he could find Rocky: He was known to hang out on Parmenter Street.

The two of them made their way over to Parmenter, where she identified Rocky as he was coming out of Alba Produce. The officer asked Rocky for his ID, according to the police report. Rocky reached into his pocket and turned it over. Yet as the officer recorded the information found on Rocky’s temporary license, Rocky kept things interesting.

“Give me my fucking license back,” Rocky started yelling, according to the police report. The officer grabbed his radio and called for backup.

“What is your problem, and why are you fucking with this woman?” the officer noted he asked Rocky.

By now, the commotion had drawn a crowd of some 30 people—including Patty Papa, who was Mayor Thomas Menino’s liaison to the North End—encircling the officer and Rocky. Papa was desperately trying to get Rocky to calm down. In the end, police hauled Rocky away in handcuffs and charged him with disturbing the peace. (The charges were later dismissed.) Despite the arrest, though, Rocky may have been successful at one thing: getting rid of the tour. According to several North End residents, Bigusiak eventually packed up her belongings and moved out of the neighborhood. (Attempts to reach Rocky and his lawyer went unanswered.)

Nearly eight years later, Rocky would have another run-in with the police. In February 2021, Paul D’Amore, the chef of Massimino’s, was inside Alba’s when he ran into Rocky, who looked to be intoxicated and was acting aggressively, according to D’Amore’s account in the police report. He allegedly demanded that D’Amore pay him $140 that he claimed he was owed for work he did for the chef years ago. D’Amore—a unique character in the North End who competes as a calf roper at rodeos throughout the Northeast—informed police that he told Rocky he’d write him a check to clear up the misunderstanding.

“Are we good?” D’Amore asked Rocky.

“No,” Rocky replied before going into the back of the store, grabbing a large produce knife, and charging at D’Amore, according to D’Amore’s account in the police report.

D’Amore bolted out the door, down the street, and into his restaurant on Endicott Street. But Rocky didn’t let it go. He picked up the phone and called D’Amore to demand the money again. D’Amore had enough and called the police. Rocky was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, as well as assault and battery of a police officer and resisting arrest. After two years and many court hearings, he was found not guilty of assault with a dangerous weapon, and the other charges were dismissed.

Still, for all of Rocky’s confrontational antics, there was one incident that stood out. The one that started the blood feud with Pato in the first place.

Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

One thing Pato had in common with Rocky was a rap sheet of his own. According to BPD records, in the late ’90s, police charged Pato with breaking and entering, among other offenses. (He was found guilty.) In December 2020, officers arrested him after he allegedly stole someone’s cell phone and threatened to kill the person. (He was ultimately charged with larceny and the case is awaiting trial.)

More recently, Pato and his brother, Jorge, a North End chef, were among those who landed on a list of people Mayor Wu’s team gave to police because the team felt they were security threats. The pair made the list, according to the mayor’s office, after protesting outside her home over Wu’s COVID policies and also protesting at City Hall over her North End restaurant policies.

In other respects, Pato and his relatives were nothing short of a generational North End success story. His family was part of Argentina’s large Italian community before they immigrated to the United States in the 1980s when their country’s economy was in a tailspin. Not surprisingly for a family of Italian heritage, they settled in the North End.

In 1995, they opened an unpretentious red-sauce eatery that they named after the family matriarch, Monica, who worked there along with her husband and at least three of their children, Jorge, Pato, and Frankie, and, in due course, their grandchildren. Eventually, the business split into two restaurants: Monica’s Trattoria, owned by Pato and Frankie, and Vinoteca di Monica, owned by Jorge.

The trattoria was a favorite haunt of actor Daniel Day-Lewis when he was studying violin-making in 2022 at the neighborhood’s famed North Bennet Street School. Day-Lewis’s sharp jawline and dark, penetrating eyes bore more than a passing resemblance to Pato himself, and according to Pato’s neighbor, who asked not to be named, after spending time with Day-Lewis, Pato grew out his hair to emulate the star’s look.

In addition to the restaurant, Pato and Frankie own a store, Monica’s Mercato & Salumeria, and from that, Pato, Frankie, and Jorge once ran a now-defunct business making custom baseball caps emblazoned with the name of their adopted city of Boston. It was here that the blood feud between Rocky and Pato really began.

One night in August 2002, police officers pulled up to 157 Salem Street in response to a call from a neighbor who said there was a man destroying the storefront of one of the Mendoza family’s businesses and threatening anyone who went near him, officers noted in their account of the incident. It had been a scorcher of a day, with the mercury well into the 90s, and the streets of the North End were still steamy. The cops climbed out of their cruiser to find Rocky, in shorts, sitting on the front steps.

“I did the neighborhood a favor,” he told the cops, according to the incident report. When officers stepped inside the Mendozas’ custom-baseball-cap business, they found glass cases upturned, windows smashed, and merchandise strewn all over the place. Amid the destruction, Rocky continued to insist that his vigilantism was justified. “It’s been going on for years—they’ve been selling drugs out of there,” he told police, as noted in their report.

“I’m tired of it. I know you’re going to arrest me. I won’t be a problem,” Rocky told the officers, according to their report, before they placed him in handcuffs and later charged him with destruction of property, which was eventually dismissed. No one in the Mendoza family was ever charged with drug dealing.

That night marked a point of no return. For the next 21 years, the beef between Pato and Rocky simmered away, with verbal insults exchanged and middle fingers raised as they passed each other in the street. In February 2019, though, the feud reached a boiling point. One morning, Pato’s brother, Frankie, was outside Monica’s and stopped to chat with his girlfriend, causing traffic to back up down Salem Street, according to a police report describing the incident. Drivers were pissed about it, but only one person leaned on his horn: Rocky. And that, of course, is a neighborhood no-no.

Frankie and Rocky exchanged some choice words before Rocky left to go about his afternoon, according to the police report. Later that day, Rocky heard that Frankie was looking for him and figured it was to apologize. So when Rocky saw Frankie waving his car down as Rocky drove down Parmenter Street toward Salem Street that afternoon, he pulled over to talk, Rocky later told police.

As Rocky stepped out of his car, Pato rushed over and smashed a glass bottle on Rocky’s head. The Mendoza brothers then laid into him, kicking and punching Rocky while he lay on the ground. Then Frankie ripped the side-view mirror right off Rocky’s car and began beating Rocky with it, according to the police report.

If that wasn’t enough, Pato pulled out a knife, Rocky later told police. Thinking he was going to get stabbed, Rocky kicked Pato as hard as he could and scrambled to his feet in an attempt to fend him off. Another North Ender saw the melee and, fearing someone was going to get killed, tried to break up the fight. Once he successfully pulled the men apart, the samaritan urged his neighbors to go home and cool down. It could have been an everyday street fight, just another ugly incident in the not-so-secret ongoing feud between Rocky and Pato over slights big and small, real and imagined. But then Rocky did something that many old-school North Enders look down on: He went to the cops.

During a phone interview with detectives three days later, Rocky described the beating to police. Rocky referred to his nemesis as “Patho” instead of the nickname Pato. According to some North End residents, Patho, as in pathological, was a more apt moniker.

The police investigation almost stalled as soon as it started. Unlike Rocky, neighbors in the North End weren’t inclined to rat out anyone. When officers went to the laundromat near the fight and asked for the security camera video, the police report noted that the owners told them the camera was inoperable. When the cops talked to the owner of a nearby restaurant, police said he told them that he saw the commotion but couldn’t make out any of the details. It seemed that everyone, as usual in the North End, was minding their own business.

Eventually, one business owner turned over their surveillance video, which confirmed Rocky’s account of the incident, and the following week, Pato was arrested. (According to the Suffolk County DA’s office, there is no record that Frankie was ever charged.) In December 2022, a jury found Pato guilty of assault and battery, and a judge sentenced him to probation, which was set to end seven months later, on July 12, 2023. (Pato’s lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.)

As the hearing drew near, though, Rocky filed fresh complaints, telling the court that Pato was repeatedly “riding his bicycle toward him…laughing at him and giving him the middle finger.” Rocky told the court it was “an ongoing problem,” one that made him “fear for his family’s safety.”

As a result, when Pato sat down in the Edward Brooke Courthouse on New Chardon Street on July 12 for what was meant to be his last probation hearing, a judge determined that he was in violation of his probation, meaning there would be more court hearings in his future. Anger has a way of growing stronger when it’s fed, and this news was like a hefty plate of pasta.

Photo illustration by Benjamen Purvis

Pato had had enough, it seemed. Later that day, he grabbed his gun and set out on his old black bicycle, looking for Rocky. It wasn’t until around 10:30 p.m. that he found his target, standing on the sidewalk outside Modern Pastry.

“Fuckface! I’m gonna get you,” Rocky told police Pato hollered at him. Video evidence shows Pato reaching behind him, whipping out a gun from his waistband, pointing it in Rocky’s direction, and squeezing off a round. “I’m going to kill you motherfucker—it’s going to be quick,” the prosecutors would later tell the court Pato said as he fired off another shot. As passersby scrambled for cover, Rocky told police, he ducked behind a Jeep. One of the shots Pato fired blew a hole through the front window of Modern Pastry. None of the bullets struck anyone on the street, including their intended target. When the firing stopped, Rocky took off running for his life toward the Rose Kennedy Greenway between the North End and Faneuil Hall, where he flagged down a police officer.

On Hanover Street, witnesses watched Pato pick up his bike and pedal away. At some point, he jumped into a van registered to Monica’s Trattoria and took off. Then he disappeared. The police released a “be on the lookout” bulletin urging officers to use caution when approaching Pato, who was considered armed, dangerous, and possibly suicidal.

For eight days, there was no sign of Pato. It was as though he’d vanished into thin air. In fact, though, Pato had checked himself into an addiction treatment center in Falmouth. On July 21, police officers caught up with him, showing up at the facility and charging him with assault with intent to murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, and gun charges. Pato pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail.

Back in the North End, the bullet hole in Modern Pastry’s window became the backdrop for an endless stream of selfies for tourists, who lined up in even greater numbers to try the bakery’s famous cannoli. North End lifers, though, had a different take on the incident. Even though Pato had apparently perpetrated a brazen attack in the heart of the neighborhood, in front of one of its most iconic businesses, few had sympathy for the man who had come inches from losing his life on Hanover Street that night. Several residents, who not surprisingly asked not to be named, believed Rocky had it coming. “Rocky may be a nice guy,” one elderly North Ender said. “But he didn’t know how to mind his own goddamn business.”

The feud serves as a stark reminder that the days when people kept their mouths shut and minded their own business may be coming to an end. After all, the North End is no longer a tightly controlled, mafia-run neighborhood. “The craziest thing about the North End shooting this summer is that he missed him,” says retired Massachusetts State Trooper Bobby Long, who, in the 1980s, worked to track the Angiulo brothers. “This sort of small-time beef never would have been tolerated in Angiulo’s day.”

A woman attending Italian Mass at St. Leonard’s Church on Hanover Street one Sunday seemed to echo that sentiment—if with a bit of nostalgia. “Maybe all of this will make people fight for the old ways,” she said, adding that people should stop running their mouths and let the neighborhood be the kind of place it’s always been. Then she paused in front of the Madonna statue in the church’s courtyard, crossed herself, shrugged, and added, “Boys will be boys.”

First published in the print edition of the December 2023/January 2024 issue with the headline, “Take the Gun, Leave the Cannoli.”