EAU GALLIE, Fla. – The evening of Jan. 22 seemed like a typical Saturday for Sam Remo Italian Restaurant: outside, drivers circled the parking lot in search of spaces; inside, newly-arrived customers searched for friends at their favorite tables, or owner Joe Zarski behind the counter.
But Jan. 22 was not typical. It was the last night in the history of San Remo, a 46-year mainstay among businesses in and around what now is the Eau Gallie Arts District. In a few weeks, the corner of Eau Gallie Boulevard and U.S. 1 will be home to Ciao, another Italian restaurant, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.
“I remember coming here as a teenager, and I am almost 40 years old,” Danielle Bowman of Melbourne said before she departed San Remo for the last time. “There’s something about the taste of homemade food; you feel comfortable in here.”
Zarski, who moved from table to table and greeted customers by name, smiled.
He is not retiring because the restaurant business is in what he acknowledges as tumultuous times, but simply because he is of an age at which he wants to enjoy travel, golf and his family.
“I turned 70 years old in December and just decided that I’m done,” he said. “I’ve loved my time here, loved the business and love the people, but it was time.”
It is understandable. Zarski came to Melbourne from Barnegat, N.J. (“I hardly remember anything about it,” he joked) when he was 23 years old and started San Remo with his Naples-born brother-in-law, Italo Avossa, when he was 25.
The site formerly was a Greek eatery, a hot dog joint and probably most famously, a Lum’s restaurant. Avossa, who retired several year ago, and Zarski made it something else again.
Success comes after you “work 18 hours a day, seven days a week,” Zarski said. San Remo became what he and Avossa envisioned: “a neighborhood pizzeria ... a really pretty fun place.”
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“I’ve always enjoyed coming to work,” he said, and took the time to think about his favorite dish to prepare, pizza aside: linguine with clams.
Zarski spoke with enthusiasm about the prospects of taking long cruises, of visiting Europe, of spending time with his five grandchildren.
“I’m thinking about enjoying the rest of my life,” he said, and as he did, customers came to shake his hand. Before they left, they took time to leave messages on a farewell poster, if they could find the space.
“I didn’t expect such a nice outpouring (of sentiment),” Zarski said. “We have made so many friendships, but it was just time that I wind down. I’m really content.”
“Joe has been a personal friend for 46 years, and I have enjoyed eating lunch with him every day during that time,” said George Alexander, owner of Eau Gallie Ace Hardware, just down the street. “It has been a part of this community for so many years. We will miss it.”