01 Feb Senior in Action – J. Sonny Cusumano
Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen
Former County of LA Public Library Administrator is having the time of her life as a retiree; meeting fascinating people who are active seniors, and volunteering for Soroptimist International of Norwalk and other women’s groups.
Senior in Action – J. Sonny Cusumano
by Marilee Marrero Stefenhagan
When asked how he stays active, Sonny shared that it’s a relief not to be as busy as he was in the restaurant business for twenty-three years. Now retired, he can choosehow he wants to spend his leisure time; traveling, spoiling his grandchildren, playing golf, and doing odd jobs around the house.
The most enjoyable part of his retirement years is the ability to travel. After founding NY’s Upper Crust Pizzain Laguna Niguel in 1991, he had to steal days away from the demanding family business. The restaurant specialized in selling pizza by the slice, as well as calzones, salads, and submarine sandwiches. Sonny explained he started NY’s Upper Crust Pizzawhen he couldn’t find a restaurant in southern California that served pizza as satisfyingly delicious as the pies he enjoyed in Brooklyn. Eventually, Sonny sold the owner-operator licensing concept 4.5 years ago to a company who is now franchising in eleven western states. Sonny remains attached to the business as Founder/VP of Business Development.
Born in 1955 and raised in Brooklyn, Sonny hated winters. He remembered as a youth watching LA Rams vs. NY Giants football games played in Los Angeles where the temperature was 80 degrees on the west coast and 20 degrees in NY. The seductive warm weather planted the notion in Sonny’s mind that California would be the perfect place to enjoy outdoor life and raise a family. He never envisioned that fifty years later he would be taking day trips on a Harley Davidson motorcycle through the winding mountain roads of Temecula or Julian, California.
Sonny’s first job was with his father’s company which manufactured printing supplies. In 1988, the opportunity came to move west to California when a sales management company offered him a similar position to the sales work he did for his dad. Business was in his blood, and with the help of a consultant, three years later he made the transition from sales to the restaurant business.
High on Sonny’s priority list now that he’s retired is spending time with his family. Daughter Cristina chose a destination wedding in Tuscany. After the wedding, Sonny toured Tuscany and Rome with family. In 2017, he returned to the land of his ancestral roots and spent two weeks visiting other Italian cities and the island of Sicily. Knowing his grandparents were born in Sicily made the trip personal, and he even located a Cusumano Winery outside Palermo. Now Cristina and two adorable grandkids live nearby in Mission Viejo, and his younger daughter Danielle lives in San Diego – close enough for fun times together.
Sports are a favorite pursuit for Sonny. He plays in an adult ice hockey league. They practice at a rink in Aliso Viejo, and evening games range from La Jolla to Carlsbad. He started playing roller hockey when he was ten years old, and still loves hockey, as well as following the pro teams, in particular, the New York Rangers. He traveled to the tropics in Aruba and the Bahamas for golf-inspired trips with buddies where he savored world class eateries and challenging golf courses. His golfing friends are fellow alumnae from his college years at Pace University, where Sonny acquired his Bachelor’s in Accounting and Finance in 1977. Sonny travels frequently to NY for an annual Pace University Christmas Party, and to visit his sister, niece and nephew.
In between business consulting, travel, sports and grandkids, Sonny manages home improvement projects, gardens and cooks. “Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto” is Italian for Eat well, laugh often, Love Much– a lifestyle which Sonny highly recommends.