All in the family: How do the Smaldones feel about the revamped Gaetano's?

Categories: Cafe Society

Mark Manger
Inside the revamped Gaetano's.
"Here's the thing," confides veteran journalist Dick Kreck, "the family is not crazy about the new Gaetano's." One family's opinion of this Italian institution might not matter, but we're not talking just any family, here. We're talking The Family, as in descendants of the Smaldones who founded the restaurant in 1947, the same family chronicled in Kreck's book Smaldone: The Untold Story of an American Crime Family.

See also:
- Mob rule: Is a meal at the revamped Gaetano's an offer you can't refuse?
- Photos: Behind the scenes at Gaetano's
- Red alert: Denver's old-school Italian joints are disappearing

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As Kreck tells it, he was at the refurbished Gaetano's this fall to speak to a book club -- one of an estimated twenty appearances he's made there to discuss his book -- and he invited Gene Smaldone, son of the family's now-deceased crime boss, Clyde, and Gene's wife, Linda, to join him. (Gene -- forbidden by his mom to join the "family business" -- and Kreck had become friendly during the years spent researching and writing the book, and the two have stayed in touch since its publication in 2010.) While the retooled food was found somewhat lacking, what really got to the Smaldones was the vibe. "It doesn't have same family feel," explains Kreck. "I think that's what bothers them most."

The comment might sound surprising, considering the old Gaetano's wasn't exactly an ice cream parlor. With a bulletproof front door and dark interior, it was a hang-out for Gene's dad and uncles, whose gambling and other illicit activities frequently put them on the wrong side of the law. But as Kreck discovered as he wrote the book, the Smaldones were also family men, quick with a buck or an offer of food for someone in need (as long as that someone didn't owe a gambling debt).

"I can't tell you the number people who have come up to me at signings and said, They helped out my mom,'" recalls Kreck, whose new book, Hell on Wheels, is due out next summer.

Who knows? Maybe Kreck and the Smaldones picked an off-night. On recent visits for my review of Gaetano's, I've seen babies in highchairs tended by doting grandmas, kids discussing homework with their mom while waiting for their pasta, and siblings vying for the last ciabatta in the bread basket. It's a different kind of family business, to be sure, but the new Gaetano's still seems to be doing a fine family business.

Location Info

Gaetano's Restaurant

3760 Tejon St., Denver, CO

Category: Restaurant

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My Voice Nation Help

Let's be real honest here.  The last 10 years or so that the Smalldones still owned the joint, it had gone to hell.  The food was crap!  No more homemade spaghetti and the thing I loved the most - the stuffed crust pizza - was an abomination.  Supposedly they had sold off the kitchen and only still ran the bar.  Whatever the reason, it was AT BEST a horrific shell of the restaurant it had once been.

While I wish the place still had the old decor, I also think that it doesn't matter in the least what the Smalldones think about the new place.  If they had cared at all, they wouldn't have let Gaetano's plummet when they owned it.

ScubaSteve topcommenter

I have met Dick Kreck several times while riding the Denver Post Cheyenne Frontier Days train.  I plan on reading his book but I'll not make any plans to visit the "new" Gaetano's.

davebarnes topcommenter

Dick Kreck's book is a "good read". I bought it a year ago and got around to reading it last week.

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