‘More than just a model’: Miniature recreations of beloved Brooklyn businesses capture spirit of the boro

miniature model of roll n' roaster
For more than a year, Jack Giambanco has created miniature, to-scale models of beloved local businesses for his fellow Brooklynites.
Photo courtesy Jack Giambanco

Two days before Christmas Eve, Jack Giambanco was trying to finish his last customer order of the season — a miniature model of a local business twice the size of his usual pieces, which measure about six inches wide.

Giambanco has achieved a measure of local fame in the last two years thanks to his to-scale, miniature models of some of Brooklyn’s beloved local businesses. Scrolling through photos of his work is like taking a walk through time and space — he’s recreated the now-closed Cotillion Terrace and Maple Lanes, Cuccio’s Bakery, even a Gravesend firehouse. Each model is meticulously crafted, a perfect recreation of the original down to the bricks and neon signs.

‘When you look at it, you feel like you’re back in the place’

“How I originally came up with the idea was during the pandemic, I was seeing places that we loved close down, these families who had spent their whole building up these businesses having to close … it was just sad,” Giambanco told Brooklyn Paper. “As I was walking, I just had this idea of being able to recreate these places that we loved that were gone.”

He already had some 3D modeling skills from a past business venture — so he took some photographs, modeling software, and a 3D printer and got to work. 

His first piece was a recreation of A&S Italian Pork Store on Avenue X. They hadn’t closed — but, like most other businesses, they were struggling, Giambanco said. The next was Brennan & Carr, a sandwich shop on Nostrand Avenue in Sheepshead Bay.

model of brennan & carr
Giambanco’s model of Brennan & Carr sandwich shop took off on social media, he said, and started a flood of orders. Photo courtesy Jack Giambanco

“When I posted that, that’s when I got like 1,000 likes on the Brooklyn group, that’s where it sort of took off, with the Brannan & Carr model,” he said. “It’s unbelievable, I have a huge waiting list of people waiting for new models.”

After he started gaining some attention on Facebook, Giambanco got a message from a woman named Dayna, whose father had owned Pia’s Pizzeria on Avenue X before he passed away. She asked if he would make a model of the restaurant as a memento of the family business.

“It was like home to them,” Giambanco said. “I put his picture in the window, and what touched me so much was just how touched she was to see it, and just the emotional aspect of it. This is more than just a model. When you look at it, you feel like you’re back in the place, it kind of brings back emotions that a photograph just doesn’t do.”

model of bialy shop and real bialy shop side by side
Giambanco said he feels his model not only capture the spirit of the place, but of the people who were there at the time. Photos courtesy Jack Giambanco

He takes commissions through his business, Major Minis, for locals and business owners — many like to use the tiny recreations of their shops as business card holders, while some are purely sentimental. The Major Minis Instagram page features photos of Engine 254 in Gravesend, which he created for some retired firefighters, and Engine 238 in Gravesend — which a father ordered for his firefighter son. 

“I feel like I’m capturing the spirit, the essence of the place,” Giambanco said. “And not only the place, but the people that were there during that time.”

Major Minis gets major attention

Beyond Brooklyn, the allure of the models is just as strong. This season, Major Minis was featured in the New York Times Gift Guide

“What happened was, it was wild,” Giambanco said. “I posted on Facebook and somebody bought one. And then a week later, he said, ‘You know, I don’t know if I told you, but I work for the New York Times, and I’d like to recommend your Roll N’ Roaster model for the gift guide.” 

In the guide, the writer — a music critic named Jon Caramanica — called the model “the best gift I got myself this year.”

model of rao's restaurant
Giambanco created a model of Rao’s Restaurant — and was invited to dine with the owners and create another, he said. Photo courtesy Jack Giambanco

The orders that have come in from that New York Times feature have kept Giambanco and his eight 3D printers plenty busy.

He also recently created a model of the iconic red Rao’s restaurant in Manhattan. The owners invited him to the restaurant — a feat in itself, since the restaurant only has 10 tables and is notoriously impossible to get into — and welcomed him to eat at their table. 

It was “just unbelievable,” Giambanco said.

Still exploring the neighborhood, still capturing memories

There are some Brooklyn mainstays he’s hankering to make on his own time — like the rock club L’Amour, which closed in 2004 — and some his neighbors are pushing for, like the old Vegas Diner in Bensonhurst. 

miniature model of pip's comedy club
Giambanco’s model of Pip’s comedy club is one of his favorites. Despite having lived in Brooklyn all his life, he’s still discovering businesses new and old to recreate in miniature. Photo courtesy Jack Giambanco

And, even though he’s lived in Brooklyn most of his life, Giambanco is still discovering new businesses he wants to model every day, he said — whether they’re new to the neighborhood or long-closed mainstays his neighbors still remember fondly. And he’s always open to suggestions and commissions. 

“If they have anything deep in their hearts, any place, I’d really like to know about it,” he said. “If there’s something out there that means a lot to them in the neighborhood, I’d like to hear about it and possibly making it for them.”