ST. LOUIS - A champion of St. Louis and its restaurant community has died. Vincent Bommarito, owner, and founder of Tony's, died Monday at the age of 88.
Many people involved with some of the St. Louis area's most popular restaurants can trace their influence back to Tony's. Giovanni Dominic Galati, owner of Dominic's on the Hill and Dominic's Trattoria in Clayton said he worked for Bommarito as a busboy, assistant waiter, waiter, and a captain before opening his own restaurants.
In 1949, fresh out of high school and following the death of his father, Bommarito decided to open a restaurant.
"The real story is, it wasn't really a restaurant," said James Bommarito about his father. "My dad asked his mother if he could start a restaurant in this kitchen that was already in the existing building."
James said it was an evolution over about 40 years, but his father set the bar for fine dining and elegance and went on to win prestigious awards like the Mobil Five Star Award and the AAA Five Diamond Award.
"I don't know how a kid that was 17 that really didn't know much about the world had the ability to have such discipline and the talent to do things like that, but he did, and I'm very proud of him for that," said James.
Over the years, Tony's was the place for celebrities and athletes. Stars like Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, and Henry Fonda have all dined at the restaurant.
While one might think there would be great competition in the restaurant industry, friends say Bommarito was generous with his wisdom and encouraged others to succeed.
"I remember when I first opened Napoli in 1988, '89, and (Bommarito) came to see me and he said, 'Kid, you will do very well. Congratulations,'" said Tony Pietoso, owner of Café Napoli in Clayton. "He shook my hand, and he said, 'Good luck to you.' I'll never forget that."
Several people Fox 2 spoke to for this story referred to Bommarito as a "family man." James, one of Bommarito's five children, said no matter how busy his father was, he always made time for his children by attending sporting events and other activities when they were growing up.
"The only person he cared about was the other person, and if he helped the other person get what they wanted, then he got what he wanted," said James.
Those who knew him say Bommarito cared about other people's families as well.
"After my dad died, (Bommarito) made a point to come in for lunch, and he'd sit at the bar on Thursdays because he likes our lentil soup," said Frank Cunetto, owner of Cunetto House of Pasta. He said Bommarito made a point to ask if there was anything he could do for Cunetto following his father's death.
Cunetto's father and Bommarito were friends for many years. They often swapped restaurant stories and suggestions for operating, and Cunetto tried to learn all he could from them both, things he still applies to his restaurant today.
"When you walk into his kitchen, on the side of the wall there's a big sign that says 'Pride,' and that's really what wraps everything up," said Cunetto. "He was proud of his business, and his family."
"He genuinely liked what he did, he loved what he did," said James. "He had passion, enthusiasm, he had all these things that allowed him to extend all those courtesies to all of our guests, but it wasn't hard for him to do it because it was something he wanted to do, he enjoyed doing it, he loved doing it."
Kim Tucci, one of the founders of Pasta House, who died last week, also got his start as a waiter for Bommarito. Pietoso said it has been a tough week for the city losing two great men so close to one another.
A funeral Mass will be held Friday (April 5) at 10 a.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. There is no visitation. Bommarito will be buried at Calvary Cemetery.