MOUNT PLEASANT — Totero’s, a local restaurant institution where customers go to the kitchen to get their food, will serve its last meal June 26.
Co-owners Albert and Angela Totero, brother and sister and third-generation owners, have decided to retire. Totero’s, 2343 Mead St., will close after 75 years of serving genuine Italian food.
The owners announced their upcoming retirement Tuesday with a sign posted behind the bar.
“It’s just been a long, hard road,” Albert said Wednesday, “and it’s just time.” He said he’s put about 35 years into the restaurant, and Angela about 45 years. “... The place is old, and it needs some work,” he added.
Also, Albert said his children have their own professions; there’s no fourth generation waiting to take over.
The Toteros’ grandfather Achille Totero started the restaurant, which is still at its original location, in 1939, Albert said. His son Santo Totero was the second owner, and Albert and Angela took over from their father in 1987.
Nine years ago they made a historic change, dropping dinners and going to lunches only, four days a week.
Except for the occasional special, the formula is always the same: One can get a beef, Italian sausage or meatball bomber any day. But each day of the week has just one type of pasta, always on the same day of the week.
Tuesday is rigatoni day, Wednesday lasagna, Thursday spaghetti and Friday is mostaccioli.
Hands down, lasagna is the most popular of that foursome, often with a line of people waiting outside to get in.
“Wednesday is the only line day,” Albert remarked.
Jon Laitinen, owner of Kiernan & Laitinen Heating and Air Conditioning, 1500 Durand Ave., is a regular Totero’s customer. He and his girlfriend usually go on a Wednesday for lasagna or Friday for mostaccioli.
“You walk in there and it almost seems they know everyone who walks in the door,” Laitinen said. “They really welcome you when you come in.
“And the food: It’s some of the best lasagna you’ll ever eat.”
Albert credits his grandmothers for the food’s bona fide Italian taste.
“We have been extremely fortunate to carry on the tradition of both of my grandmothers’ and my mother’s recipes,” he said. “It was stuff we ate when we were growing up, and we were able to present it for the public, restaurant-style.
“And we have a special sauce like no one else’s, I think, in this area.”
Beyond the food, customers such as Vinnie Celeste, 32, of Racine, who’s been eating at Totero’s his entire life, love its ambiance. “It’s got that old Italian neighborhood atmosphere,” he said, “and the food is off the charts.”
To order and get food at Totero’s, customers walk through the dining area to a kitchen entrance, where they order off a sign board. The food is dished up there and diners carry their plates back and find a seat. Then they go to the bar to order a drink.
When they’re finished, diners go to the bar, tell what they had, and the bartender rings them up. There’s no wait staff or written ticket involved.
“There’s nothing else around like (Totero’s),” Celeste said. “I hate to see it go.”
Laitinen agreed and said, “It’s a little bit different than any other place you’ll walk into.”