“She was my love”
Robert remembers Renee
Story and photos by Mónica Barnkow
Back in the 1980’s, when Renee and Robert Mancino sought to open a bakery in Washington Heights, the neighborhood was considered dangerous.
Far fewer businesses were seeking to set up shop in the Northern Manhattan in which the drug wars raged. Retail space was relatively inexpensive.
“In 1980, you needed a gun to walk around here,” said Robert Mancino, owner of Carrot Top Pastries. “They begged me to take this store.”
The retired police officer spoke outside the Washington Heights eatery, just a day after his wife and business partner, Renee Mancino, had taken her life inside the store.
“Everybody was doing drugs around here,” added the couple’s long-time friend, Jeff Marcus.
Marcus met Renee over 40 years ago at a hardware store he owned on 207th Street, and would go on to provide the couple with financial assistance for the first Carrot Top in Inwood.
It was the beginning of a long friendship that was mutually supportive.
“I helped him when he needed,” said Marcus. “And he helped me when he could.”
When they later opened the second Carrot Top Pastries shop at 3931 Broadway, Mancino said that he and his wife were pioneers in the area. Their store, he said, provided a safe space in which local residents could gather and helped to “build the block.”
Renee, in particular, quickly established herself as a welcoming proprietor with a warm smile and generous spirit.
After having been closed directly after word of her death, both Carrot Top eateries were reopened on Wed., Nov. 12th. Mancino gathered with long-time patrons, family and friends who stopped in at the Washington Heights locale to pay their respects.
He spoke openly and often through tears.
He also expressed anger at the lease renewal negotiations he said had been an ongoing source of frustration for the couple and had created financial pressure.
Five years ago, the couple began negotiations with the landlord, New York Presbyterian Hospital. The process had been contentious, said Mancino, who charged that the landlord’s representatives did not seem to appreciate the decades the couple had invested in the neighborhood.
“I went through years of horrible, horrible negotiations,” said Mancino.
There were reports too that Renee had been suffering from illness.
But Mancino said he couldn’t confirm his wife had been diagnosed with cancer, but acknowledged that she had been ill and taking different medications.
“The diagnosis changed a couple of times,” he said. “She has been sick and depressed.”
Those close to Renee said she could be very private.
“She did have health issues,” confirmed Kenneth Espaillat, the couple’s godson. “But she didn’t disclose the entire thing to just anyone.”
He said that his godmother had been under a lot of stress of late.
“It was a combination of things that pushed her over the top,” said Espaillat.
A large poster depicting a smiling Renee was taped to the front window and candles were grouped together on the sidewalk.
As he spoke, Mancino caught sight of his wife’s image and broke down in tears.
“That haunts me every time I look at it,” he said. “She was such a lovely wife.”
“That’s my life. It’s gone now,” he said, pointing to the poster. “I’m lost without her. She was my love.”
Renee Mancino’s wake will be held this evening, Thurs., Nov. 13th from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Riverdale Funeral Home, located at 5044 Broadway (at 214th Street).