When one speaks of legends in billiards, they draw upon memories of Johnny Archer, Allison Fisher, Nick Varner...But one name that you won't hear them say (at least not yet) is that of Giovanni "Johnny Chubbs" Pellegrino.
I first heard about Johnny Chubbs while shooting pool against other patrons at a bar in Charlotte, N.C., with some friends. Although I had only the eight ball left for me to win the game it would take a three-banked shot into the corner pocket to do so. As I aimed my cue stick I heard one of the local men I was playing say "that's a 'What The' shot!"
Curious as to what he meant by the comment I placed my cue stick at my side and asked him what exactly a 'What The' shot was? He laughed and said "Boy, you ain't never heard of Johnny Chubbs?"
I calmly replied "no" while holding back my frustration towards the comment and the man who made it. "Johnny Chubbs is the greatest player you ain't never seen," the man continued, "and if you ain't seen 'em yet I would suggest you do so, that boy can shoot stick!" Every time Johnny makes an impossible shot everyone yells "What The" and you, my friend, have a "What The" shot.
Needless to say I missed the shot and ultimately lost the game, but I found myself intrigued by the mans suggestion so I took the liberty of going out in search of this Johnny Chubbs guy.
My investigating led me to a small bar in Troutman, N.C., about an hour north of Charlotte where I was told Giovanni Pellegrino played in weekly pool tournament.
Upon entering the bar my eyes were immediately drawn to a large crowd that had assembled around a pool table in the corner. As I approached the crowd I saw a rather large man leaning over the table and about to take a shot. One bank, two banks, seven ball in the side pocket! "What The" the crowd yelled as the man stood up with no expression on his face as if to say "I knew I had that made."
Standing 6' 5" and weighing in at around 350 pounds I knew this was the man I was looking for. I watched him win game after game with amazing quickness...eight ball on the break, three balls at the same time for the win, hip shot, skip shot...you name it! Johnny Chubbs was the real deal and I was witness to his legend.
When the tournament concluded I walked over to Mr. Pellegrino and introduced myself. I asked if he had a few minutes to speak with me and tell me a little about how he came to be such a great pool player. He obliged and led me to a table next to the jukebox and asked me to have a seat. Johnny Chubbs and I spoke in length for two hours or so, in which time I learned all about how his local legend came to be.
Born and raised in Manhattan, N.Y., Giovanni was the middle son of Italian immigrants Luigi Antonio Carlo Pellegrino and Lucia Mamia Cucina Pellegrino. After graduating 450th in his high school class Giovanni began working at a local pizzeria where he would rise to the rank of head pizza guy in 1998.
Giovanni later opened a restaurant with his Brother Salvatore "Sausage King" Pellegrino in the suburbs of New Jersey. The restaurant did well and so the Pellegrino's decided to open up a second one under the name Dusals. Then in 2007 the entire Pellegrino family decided to move to North Carolina with the intent of establishing a better life for their children.
In 2008 Giovanni and Sal would open there third restaurant in the town of Troutman, N.C., and simply name it Pellegrino's Trattoria. This placement of their restaurant would forever change the history of the pool world.
In 2009 a small bar opened up next to the Pellegrino Brothers restaurant and in this bar stood two regulation sized pool tables. In his spare time Giovanni would walk over to the bar and play a few games of billiards in an attempt to break up the monotony of his day. "People started to ask me how many years I had been playing for?" said Giovanni. "And when I told them I had just started they didn't believe me. That's when I knew billiards was my calling and I answered that calling by practicing, practicing, practicing!"
Within two months Giovanni had joined the Professional Billiards Association and achieved the rank of level four (level seven being the highest). He read books, entered tournaments, and watched video of his playing. In six months he had been given the nickname of "Johnny Chubbs" and "The Big Ragu" by the Troutman locals who had seen him play and was deemed unbeatable.
With 16 pool sticks of his own (including a high end breaking stick) Johnny Chubbs is now a full year into his billiards career. He will play anybody at anytime and says his one goal now is to find someone who can beat him.
While every legend has a story, the one of Giovanni "Johnny Chubbs" Pellegrino is still in the works. I would be extremely surprised if I didn't see his name among the all time greats five years from now.
As our conversation was concluding a man walked up to Giovanni and tapped him on his shoulder "Are you the Big Ragu?" the man asked. "Here we go again," Giovanni sighed...
I got up from my seat, shook Johnnies hand, and watched him follow the man over to the nearest open table. He was lining up his break shot as I headed towards the exit of the bar. As I opened the door I heard a CRACK immediately followed by Johnny Chubbs' voice "OOOPS!" I didn't even turn back to see...
"Had the legend beaten himself that day?"