In 1939, Leo and Tessie DiTerlizzi opened Leo’s Grandevous, a tavern on Second and Grand streets. Tessie began cooking dinners for patrons in their apartment above the bar, and the food caught on.
“Tessie used to come downstairs with dinner for Leo, and people would be asking for extras,” said Sergio DeNichilo, co-owner of the Hoboken restaurant and grandnephew of the DiTerlizzis.
The jukebox plays a selection of Sinatra favorites.
“Leo taught us that the most important part of the business is making one customer a lifelong customer through friendship,” DeNichilo said. “It’s a family-owned and -run business that brings you in as family.”
Leo’s, the 70-year-old rendezvous point on Grand Street, is celebrating their anniversary this year with live music, food specials, an essay contest, and an all-inclusive wine dinner.
The establishment is best known for its Italian dishes and family-owned charm. And that home-cooked style is still intact. “It’s comfort food for working-class families,” DeNichilo said.
Even when doing renovations to the restaurant two years ago, DePalma said they tried to maintain the “feel” of the old eatery. “People like to go back to a place as they remember it,” he said. “It’s an anchor to Hoboken’s past.”
He said new restaurants in town are mirroring those of New York City. “I think Leo’s has a special Hoboken feel,” DePalma said.
On Monday, Oct. 19, Leo’s is hosting a musical event to celebrate their anniversary.
“Swingin’ with the Rat Pack” is a night of live musical entertainment with a Frank Sinatra impersonator and his Rat Pack band. (“So dress your swinger best,” the promotional flyers read.)
To the uninformed observer, Leo’s could be mistaken for Sinatra’s home away from home. Leo loved Sinatra’s music and had a friendship that stretched back into their days as young men on the streets of Hoboken.
“Leo developed an affinity for him,” DeNichilo said. “What’s not to like about his music.”
He said Leo went to see Sinatra at the Rusty Cabin and the Union Club before the singer’s career took him Hollywood.
Today, pictures of the crooner fill every inch of wall space, and the jukebox is full of the dulcet tones of “The Voice,” as he was called.
DeNichilo said longtime patrons have donated some of their own favorite pictures to the place, or children of longtime patrons have brought their relative’s favorite photo.
“They wanted their family to be part of the restaurant also,” DeNichilo said. “I can’t tell you how many fathers were bringing in their children by the hand, and now the kid is driving, or bringing in their children.”
Stories to tell
The owners are also inviting Hobokenites to tell their story about Leo or the restaurant.
“Everybody has a story about Leo,” DeNichilo said. “Maybe they were down-and-out and he loaned them the rent, whatever.”
On Monday, Oct. 12, they will award two prizes – one for adults, one for children under 18 – to the best essays encapsulating the vibrant spirit of Leo or the cozy atmosphere of the Grandezvous. They have extended the essay deadline until Saturday, Oct. 10, and essays can be dropped off at the restaurant.
They will also treat in-house patrons to 70 cent draught beers and 70 cent pizza from 5 to 8 p.m.
They’ve only received a few essays so far, but DePalma said they are “heartfelt” and almost brought members of his family to tears.
One essay from an older Bayonne woman tells the story of when she was young and picking up takeout for the family.
While walking the food home, according to the story, a group of older girls told her it smelled good and took it from her.
She ran back to the restaurant crying, DePalma said, and left with another order for free and an escort home.
A few years ago, DeNichilo told the Reporter a story about an old man who remembered Leo’s kindness.
The old man told DeNichilo that when he was a young man working as a day laborer, he came in for lunch, but was broke. Leo asked him what he wanted for lunch and the young man responded that he didn’t have any money. Leo told him, “I didn’t ask you if you had money; I asked what you wanted for lunch.” He told DeNichilo, “I will never forget the way your grandfather treated me.”
Dinner is served
On Monday, Nov. 2, Leo’s is inviting guests for a wine dinner. It includes pan-seared scallops with an apple cinnamon béarnaise over pumpkin ravioli, and grilled skirt steak with wild mushroom risotto in a ruby port reduction topped with shaved truffles.
“We’re going off the reservation with this menu,” he said.
The all-inclusive meal is $70 per person and includes a selection of Italian wines.
They will also provide live dinner music for the event.
For more information, call (201) 659-9467 or visit leosgrandevous.com.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at email@example.com.