Italian market Gaudino’s returns as bar and restaurant

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

A petite red satin jacket with “Gaudino’s Importing” embroidered on the back hangs high on a shelf crowded with olive oil bottles, like the jersey of a beloved retired athlete.

The jacket’s owner, JoMarie Amato, however, is just getting back in the game.

With the opening of Gaudino’s restaurant this month, she gave new life to her family legacy, an Italian market that her maternal grandparents Peter and Josephine Gaudino opened in the 1940s at Mack and Drexel in Detroit. By the 1970s, her mother and father, Mary and Jack Genovesi, were running the business with Amato’s older siblings, John and Sandy, and moved the the shop to Harper just north of 11 Mile in St. Clair Shores.

As a young person in the 1980s Amato worked in the market, selling meats, cheese and the famous Gaudino sausage, a family recipe that her grandfather and dad perfected. This is where she met her future husband, St. Clair Shores native Tom Amato, who happened to stroll in one day looking for a job.

In the late 1980s, with their three children doing other things, Jack and Mary Genovesi retired the business and took off for Florida. For several years Giglio’s, another Italian market with a long history in Detroit, operated in the space until closing in 2011. Since then, the building had sat sadly vacant — no cheeses, no sausage, no olive oils.

“We’re east siders, we live in Grosse Pointe. Every time we would drive down Harper we would see the empty building and we would get sentimental and we’d be sad,” said JoMarie, who worked as an elementary school teacher after the family business closed.

Since his days working at Gaudino’s alongside his future wife, Tom Amato had gone to college, become an engineer and had a successful career as CEO of an automotive supplier (and “yadda yadda yadda,” as JoMarie says). So he was in a position to surprise his wife by buying back her family’s building in the fall of 2015.

“First we thought maybe we’ll make offices out of it and put a plaque dedicating it to my grandfather and father and call it the Gaudino Building,” said JoMarie.

Then she got an idea she describes as “harebrained.”

“Why don’t we bring Gaudino’s back?”

Instead of resurrecting the Gaudino’s name as simply a specialty market — which isn’t totally necessary since there is a Nino Salvaggio across the street — the Amatos decided to make the new business a bar, restaurant and Italian market.

“We want you to come in and experience the Italian traditions and cuisine and be able to enjoy something to eat, and do some shopping on your way out.”

The simple menu features seven starters, minestrone and chicken pastina soups, three salads and a list of “favorites” like chicken fiorentina, chicken or eggplant Parmagiana and a burger made with the house sausage patty. There’s also pizza, pasta and a kid’s menu. Expect hearty Italian dishes like bruschetta, meatballs, lasagna and gnocchi Bolognese.

Amato says many of the ingredients on Gaudino’s menu will be available for purchase in the store, including her grandfather’s beloved Italian sausage, which has its own prep room with windows for curious customers.

A host greets customers at the door, asking if they’re there to eat, drink or shop. There’s room for about 100 diners at high and low tables, and bar stool seating for six at a chef’s table near the kitchen. Reservations can be made for parties of eight or more.

Seating at the bar is first come, first serve. The bar’s focus is on wine, but they have some bottled beers and liquor, including Italian drinks like limoncello and Campari. A three-season outdoor seating area and a private dining room are getting finishing touches.

The new Gaudino’s look was designed by Ron and Roman designers of Birmingham, which is responsible for the modern look of many local hot spots, including Crispelli’s Bakery and Pizzeria in Berkley and Dime Store in downtown Detroit. This includes the eye-catching central bar area with broken up wine barrels shaped like a tree.

Photos from Gaudino’s throughout the decades — including some from The Detroit News’ archive — are on display, along with one rogue black-and-white portrait of Italian actress Sophia Loren.

In the months Amato and her team, which includes chef Joe Beato, general manager Peter Maniaci and office manager Nichole Homfeld, have been readying Gaudino’s return, Amato says she’s reconnected with so many people. Old high school friends and former customers of her parents have stopped in or sent messages, excited for a taste of local history.

“I’m overwhelmed that my childhood memories have resurfaced and have become a reality,” she said.

Gaudino’s, 27919 Harper, opened for dinner last week, and Amato says that starting this week they’ll be open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tues.-Thurs. and 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat. Dinner service starts at 4:30. Sunday hours may be added down the line. Closed Mondays. Call (586) 879-6764.

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2402

Twitter: @melodybaetens