Gaspare Indelicato has made Italian food his mission since the age of 15. Thanks to hard work "and a little bit of luck," he says, he’s achieved his long-held American dream: to be a successful business owner, presiding over his namesake pizza and pasta house on Geary and 20th Avenue.
His restaurant, Gaspare's, has been in business since the early '80s—but its vibe goes back to the 1950s: paintings of Italian vistas dominate the walls, grape vines and garlic hang from the ceiling, and jukeboxes line every booth, offering classics like "That’s Amore!" and "Mambo Italiano."
Born and raised in Sicily, Gaspare was a busboy before traveling the world as a server working on cruise ships. He settled in San Francisco over 49 years ago, after meeting his wife Robin. Right away, he started working at the top-tier restaurant Ernie’s, which was frequented by celebrities and featured in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Eventually, Gaspare struck out on his own, purchasing the Geary space, formerly another Italian restaurant called Vince’s. He kept some of the existing recipes while incorporating some of his own. "I maintain a classic line of old-fashioned dishes from the past," he said. "It started in the '50s, and I’ll try to keep it more or less the same kind of food: spaghetti with meatballs, baked lasagna, Neapolitan pizza—that is the staple here."
Gaspare will soon pass the torch to his son, Daniel. As he’s taught his successor, making friends with customers and managing a successful restaurant can be one and the same for a business owner. “[My dad is] an attraction here," says Daniel. "[Patrons] like coming to a place and seeing someone they know. People develop a relationship with him."
Gaspare says that meeting the people coming through the door is his favorite part of the job. “Regulars become our friends," he said. "[They can be] single, kids, elderly, well-dressed, casual, from every place on earth, it’s a wonderful mix. They can be high schoolers one night, celebrating prom, a college professor from USF ... they can be theatergoers, they can be hippies from the park concerts, everyone!"
Another testament to Gaspare’s talents: many members of his staff have been with him since the very beginning. "The gentleman making pizza, Enrique, has been here for 33 out of the 35 years," said Daniel. The cook, many servers, and even the jukebox technician have been with Gaspare since the restaurant first opened.
If you've seen Woody Allen's 2013 film "Blue Jasmine," you might have noticed a cameo appearance by the atmospheric eatery. The scene, filmed in a booth over pizza, took three days to shoot. But it almost didn’t happen.
“Woody Allen’s agent called me and said, could we close the restaurant for a movie? And I said, no, we don’t close on weekends," Gaspare said. "And then they called me again: ‘We really need the restaurant to film something,’ and I said, 'You can do it if you film during the day, but I don’t want to close on weekends, those are my best days! I was impressed, it’s Woody Allen, but can he film Monday, Tuesday?"
So that’s what they did, and a photo of Blanchett, Allen and Gaspare now hangs in the restaurant to commemorate the occasion.
With retirement on the horizon, Gaspare is grateful and reflective. Owning his own restaurant, and the success he’s had, "still feels like a dream, and I would never ever change anything," he said.
"Despite what many think—that America is not that great—they are wrong."
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