QUEENS — An Italian restaurant that has been a fixture in Rego Park for more than six decades and served political bigwigs such as President John F. Kennedy is set to close this weekend — despite booming business since announcing plans to shutter the eatery, the owners said.
“We are retiring,” said John Abbracciamento, 60, who has operated the restaurant, at 62-96 Woodhaven Blvd., with his brother Joe and wife Marie. “My wife and I are in our 60s and it’s time.”
The owner said closing Joe Abbracciamento Restaurant is "a bittersweet situation. It’s a lot of emotions built into here, especially with all the people that we’ve been taking care of for all these 60 years.”
Since the restaurant announced its plans to close several weeks ago, Abbracciamento said it has become really busy, serving “literally thousands of people,” flocking to savor the restaurant's chicken parmigiana, veal scallopini and fettuccine a la Carbonara for the last time.
“It’s an iconic spot. It’s been here since I can remember. Everybody knew it,” said Denise Pascale, 46, a librarian, who grew up in nearby Middle Village and dined at the restaurant on Wednesday. “In the '70s and the '80s it was the hot spot for all the big parties, engagements, birthdays….”
Abbracciamento said that one of the restaurant's secrets has been its recipes grounded in Italian culinary tradition.
“I tried to keep everything the way it was from the '50s," said Abbracciamento, who is also the chef at the restaurant.
His father, Abbracciamento said, established the restaurant in 1948, after serving as a Master Sergeant in a kitchen in the U.S. Army during World War II.
John and his brother have worked at the restaurant since they were kids.
“I've worked here since I was 12 years old,” said John. “Cleaning up, getting things ready… All my life.”
Over the years, the restaurant has become more than just a neighborhood spot. In the 1960 and the 1970s, Abbracciamento said, it served numerous politicians, including John F. Kennedy and his brother Ted as well as Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman nominated to run for vice president by a major party.
“I got to meet much of the world in this place,” Abbracciamento said.
He said that it’s possible that in the future he may open a smaller place.
“I have to see how it feels when you wake up in the morning and you have nowhere to go,” he said.
The restaurant will serve its last meal on Sunday, March 2.
“It will be missed,” said Denise Pascale. "It was part of this town."