Many restaurant owners panic if they run out of food, but Gene Presti wasn’t worried as his kitchen served its last meal at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Instead the owner of Presti’s in Oberlin made jokes and said goodbye to loyal customers and close friends as he closed up shop for good.
For years Presti sat at a high table in the bar section that he called his office, greeted customers, and talked to those who sat near him in the Rt. 511 restaurant.
After serving italian dishes for 77 years, Presti said it was finally time to call it a day and close the doors.
It wasn’t an easy decision, but something Presti said has been in the making for quite some time.
“Things have been a little off for the past year. The past four or five years have not been good but this last year has been very difficult and there comes a time where you have to make a decision of what to do,” he said. “So we decided we have to close it.”
Presti was three years old when his parents opened the restaurant. He began waiting tables when he was six.
“My mother put an apron on me and it was sort of a novelty thing for the place,” he said.
Presti laughed as he thought of the time when he surprised his second-grade teacher by delivering her food.
“That was pretty much the highlight of those years,” he said.
As Presti grew up, he continued to wait tables and cook meals until he joined the Marines.
When he returned, Presti said he wanted to pursue something other than the restaurant business but decided to take over with his brother in 1957.
“It was necessary to join the business because it needed to go on and there was no one else to do it at that time and it was too much for my mother alone,” he said. “It’s just one of those things, you have to do it and I’m glad I did. It’s been a wonderful run for me for all these years.”
Presti’s children continued the family tradition by becoming partners in the 1980s, but his son decided to back out after having a heart attack.
Since then it’s been Presti and his daughter Michele Zimmerman running the front of the house as her husband Kurt was in charge of the kitchen.
Presti said he’s going to miss seeing old friends and meeting new customers.
“I’ve met a lot of fine people, great people, a lot of great friends,” he said.
Presti said he was shocked to see how many people came by to say goodbye during the eatery’s last hours. It was the busiest they’ve been in years. There was even a birthday party for a 90-year-old customer.
“It was unbelievable how many people were there. I was getting phone calls from Arizona, California, Florida, and North Carolina,” he said. “It was heartwarming.”
“It was nice seeing some old friends and how many people are just sad that we’re closing,” he said.
Hosting rehearsal dinners, family reunions, anniversary parties, and engagements have been highlights for the 79-year-old owner.
“We had a great time. We’ve had wonderful, wonderful things happen there,” he said. “Those are the things I’m going to miss.”
The building has been on the market to sell for three years.
Presti said he’s had several people interested in buying, though no successful deals have come of talks.
“The banks are reluctant to loan money on restaurants, so that’s a little bit of a problem,” he said.
Caitlyn Wasmundt may be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @LC_CaitW.