Gandolfini's death leaves mark on Suncoast

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VENICE -  Most of us knew James Gandolfini as the star of the TV show "The Sopranos." Though it was set in New Jersey, it left its mark on the Suncoast.

Driving past on US-41 in Venice, Benny Bada Bing Pizza looks like any strip mall restaurant. Get closer and you notice the artificial bullet holes in the windows. Go inside and see a shrine to fictional mobsters.

“The newcomers that come in the store, the first thing they do you see them walk around the store, looking at all the memorabilia, the pictures,” says owner Benny Cararo. Prominent among them is the cast of “The Sopranos,” and its star. “He was another Marlon Brando,” Cararo says. “He was like the modern version of a godfather.”

Cararo comes by his New York, Italian-American accent naturally. And, as far-fetched as Tony Soprano's world seems to most of us, Cararo says the show keeps him connected to the reality he remembers living in New York. “Living in brooklyn, you knew all the families,” he says. “At one time or another you had to meet somebody.”

He opened a similar restaurant back in New York, named Bada Bing – after the club Tony Soprano owned. He says HBO, which aired the show, made him change it or face a lawsuit. That's when he added Benny to the name.

Despite all the fictional mobster memorabilia in the restaurant, Cararo doesn't mean to glorify the real thing. He notes that as he comfortably runs his pizza restaurant in southwest Florida, all the wiseguys he knew back in New York, “they're all dead,” he says.