BLOOMINGTON — Lucca Grill, which celebrated its 80th anniversary in December, is under new ownership, but the new proprietors have a long history of their own with the legendary eatery in downtown Bloomington.
The restaurant at 116 E. Market St. was closed on Monday so the sale to Tony Smith and John Koch, as LGP (Lucca Grill Pizzeria) Enterprises, could be completed.
The two men are longtime managers of the restaurant that they purchased from their former boss, Chuck Williams.
"He called me about 10 o'clock last night when it was storming," said Smith's mother, Myrna Carter. Her son first asked her if she was OK, and then he said, "'Mom, I bought a bar today,'" said Carter.
"You didn't just didn't buy a bar. You bought the Lucca Grill," Carter told her son.
She was among the first of Lucca's lunchtime patrons to arrive when the restaurant reopened at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
When she walked in, her son gave her a big hug. She dabbed away tears as she watched Tony work behind the bar, relishing his good fortune.
"He's wanted to buy it for a long time," said Carter. "I just came down to say good luck and how great I think this is."
No changes are planned under the new ownership, said Smith as he was waiting on lunchtime patrons. Koch, who planned to work a later shift that day, was not available for comment.
"We're not going to change what works," said Smith. "This is what got us the ability to buy the place. You don't change that."
Asked to describe the business, he said, "It's an old-time saloon, where the pizzas are incredible."
Consistency is the key to the restaurant's longevity, said Smith.
"You get the same thing every time you come in," he said. "You know what you're going to get, and you know the staff. It's a friendly place. A lot of people come in to hang out and talk. It's all walks of life. It belongs to Bloomington more than it belongs to us. We're just the custodians right now."
Smith has worked at Lucca Grill for 18 years, starting as a bartender and becoming a manager in 2008.
"John's been here, I believe, since 1996, so he has 22 years in," said Smith about his business partner. "John grew up in this room. His dad was one of the accountants for the Baldini brothers."
After immigrating from Italy, brothers Fred and John Baldini began the eatery they named after their hometown in 1936 near the end of the Great Depression
"This is our home," said Smith. "This is what we've done for the last two decades — both of us. And when the opportunity came to make it the rest of our lives' work, we jumped at it.
"We consider ourselves very lucky to be a part of the Lucca Grill history, and we will take it as far as we can, and then hand it off to the next generation."