Compiled by The Bedford Citizen
When news of Café Luigi’s closing broke on its Facebook page in early August, the post was shared 266 times and generated a nearly endless string of comments, ranging from “Guess this as good a time as any to go on a diet?” to “Oh, NO!” and “Hope all the longtime employees will be back!”
Café Luigi is not saying good-bye at the close of business on August 29, but ‘Arrivederci, til we meet again.’ It will return when the time is right, when there is a building to move into;”Spring, 2016″ according to the restaurant’s website.
Some predicted Luigi would wouldn’t lose a day, that there would be a bucket brigade to transfer pasta pots, fields of salad greens and buckets of parmesan peppercorn salad dressing across the parking lot.
Owner Richard Stoico worked at Mario’s Italian Restaurant in Lexington as a high school student. Returning to the area after college, he partnered with Mario’s owners and opened Café Luigi on June 22, 1988, replacing the Center Haven coffee shop back in the day when Bedford Marketplace was known as the Bedford Shopping Center. As time went on, Café Luigi’s took over the old Schoolcraft store (the current kitchen occupies the space where art and craft supplies were once sold), then expanded the dining room when the dry cleaner closed and the bank moved to new quarters.
Since it opened, Café Luigi has been one of Bedford’s most popular establishments, known far and wide as ‘the’ place to enjoy a great meal, but its longevity and success draw on much more than delicious Italian food: Café Luigi’s customers and staff are the keystone of the restaurant’s success.
Café Luigi’s initial customers were largely young families, and Stoico hoped that the restaurant would begin to draw an audience of older, more sophisticated diners. Those customers came along, and the younger generation remained. “It’s sad,” Stoico said, “after so long in one place, to see many of our original customers pass.”
Laura Ricker has worked in the dining room for at least a couple of days a week since Luigi’s opened, and she was in high school. She loves meeting the new babies who arrive with second and even third-generation customers. The faithful come in, even during snowstorms, she said, “and there is one couple that comes from Norwood every Sunday. A friend brought them to lunch years ago, and they’re still coming back!”
Upon hearing that Stoico credits the staff with Café Luigi’s success, Ricker pointed right back to him noting that the large staff (30-35 in the front of the house, plus kitchen help and others) wouldn’t be as effective as they are without his leadership. “He keeps an eye on things,” she said, “and that’s why it all works. I consider Richard to be both a friend and a great boss.”
Customers come to Café Luigi from all around New England or even much farther. Marion and Gerry Roantree, visiting from Ireland in 2008, loved it so much they chose to return on their last night in Bedford, two days after their first visit. The waitress remembers, and still mentions them. Gerry, a Dubliner by birth, continues to talk about Cafe Luigi as a highlight of his trip to America.
One Bedford resident arrives every Friday night for shrimp scampi, sits at “his” table, and occasionally looks askance at interlopers who have been seated there before arrives. He plans to get to the restaurant in plenty of time to sit at his regular table on August 28.
Reports are that ago a nurse at a Boston hospital lit up, practically salivating, when his patient told him she was from Bedford, “Ah, Bedford!” he said, I live in Chelmsford, but I’m in Bedford as often as I can to go to Café Luigi.”
There’s no real agreement about the tastiest item on the menu, each regular customer has his or her favorite. Ricker suggests Broccoli Chicken Tornelli as a crowd-pleaser.“But, I’m spoiled,” she says. “Whenever my friends want to go out for Italian [food] I try to steer them to Luigi’s because nothing else is ever quite as good.”
More than one diner goes just for the experience. “It’s my company cafeteria. It’s my summer kitchen in any season. Everything is cozy and familiar, from the patrons to the staff to the lasagna special, which you can get every single day with meatballs or sausage, or both.”
And there are those who count on Café Luigi’s Party Platters as must-have staples for entertaining at home. According to Ricker, Christmas Eve is a “crazy time, but in a good way,” when customers arrive in waves to collect their holiday party fare.
How did so many customers find Café Luigi? Perhaps they were in Bedford for a medical appointment and were referred by the VA Medical Center or Lahey Clinic; they may have originally come for a working lunch and returned with their family; or they might be Bedford residents who’ve moved out of town and return for a nostalgic visit. No matter, all are looking forward to the new space, and can’t wait for Café Luigi to reopen.
After August 29 and until the new space opens next spring, customers can sample the other restaurants in the Café Luigi family: Mario’s Italian Restaurant in Lexington; Jimmy’s Steer House in Arlington or Saugus; Jimmy’s Tavern and Grill in Shrewsbury; Grassfield’s in Waltham or Andover; and Prime 131 Grill in Wayland.
Editor’s Note: Andrea Cleghorn and Julie Turner collaborated in preparing this story