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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    What’s Going On: Tony D’s has taken traditional cuisine seriously for 25 years

    Longtime employee John Palladino, left, and owner Anthony D'Angelo stand next to a portrait of D’Angelo’s grandfather Salvatore D’Angelo at Tony D's Restaurant in New London Friday, June 14, 2024. The popular Italian restaurant just celebrated its 25th anniversary in business. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Just a month ago, the music power couple David Foster and Katharine McPhee were giving a concert at the Garde Arts Center when one of them told an amusing story that started with them dining that night at “Tony’s restaurant.”

    “Tony D’s!” the knowledgeable crowd shouted out.

    Seems like everyone in New London dines at Tony D’s at least once or twice a year, especially on important family occasions. And the restaurant’s location just across from the Garde makes it a perfect spot for pre-concert fare, while its beautiful old-fashioned bar attracts a regular crowd and the 260-seat restaurant continues to provide classic Italian items such as chicken Parmigana, calamari and ravioli that satisfy the most discriminating palates.

    “We stay with what we’re good at doing,” said owner Anthony D’Angelo, the second-generation owner of the restaurant whose father, Tony, opened the place when his son was just a boy.

    Hard to believe, but Tony D’s just celebrated its 25th anniversary on May 29. The younger D’Angelo, now officially the restaurant owner, said they all raised a toast to 25 years and then went back to business.

    “’Just keep cookin’’’ is a phrase that would become the leitmotif throughout my life,“ D’Angelo said in a brief homage to his family’s history in the restaurant business. ”Cooking for my family has always represented happiness, love, resilience, and a way to bring people together.“

    The family immigrated in the 1940s to New London from Abruzzo, Italy, and not long after started sharing cooking traditions from the home country. In 1943, Anthony’s great uncle Pasquale “Tatsi” D’Angelo invested in Jill’s Diner, and in the 1950s his grandfather, Salvatore “Sal” D’Angelo started selling “Mother’s Pies” that helped out women who otherwise would have to bake for special occasions and Sunday suppers.

    The pies became so popular, up to 700 baked every week, that in the mid-1960s his grandfather was bought out by another company called Table Talk, a Worcester, Mass.-based firm that now sells products in all 50 states.

    Other D’Angelo ventures also found success in the 1950s-‘70s, including the Colchester Inn, two Groton eateries called the Oh Boy Diner and The Twin Bridge Diner, later renamed as Rosie’s Diner, as well as the Surf & Turf restaurant in Groton.

    In 1999, Anthony’s father Tony, who was Sal’s son, got the itch to start his own restaurant, opening Tony D’s at the corner of Huntington and Broad streets. It previously had long been the home of The Gondolier restaurant, and before that the Holly House.

    According to his son, “Tony ensured it had a family-oriented vibe, where people can gather with their loved ones and friends, slow down, reconnect, and enjoy a home-cooked traditional Abruzzo meal.”

    Anthony said in a phone interview that he believes the dark, private, low-key vibe of Tony D’s is one reason for the restaurant’s longevity.

    “There’s no windows where people can look in and see you,” he said.

    Anthony also said the restaurant’s long-time employees, many with a dozen or more years serving customers, keep people coming back to visit. John Palladino, the executive chef and one of the restaurant’s original employees, is among the 70 people employed by the restaurant.

    One of Anthony’s first memories of the business is of his Aunt Idi making ravioli in the kitchen window.

    Anthony started working at Tony D’s at age 13 when his father needed a little extra help busing tables, washing dishes or doing prep work. Soon, he was whipping up recipes in the kitchen to rival seasoned chefs, despite not having formal training.

    “I knew from the moment I saw the faces of happy customers, heard waitstaff boasting about the people they served or the tips they made, enjoyed the aromas of generational recipes from my ancestors, or felt the energy of a busy weekend night, this was for me,” he wrote in his 25th anniversary statement.

    Now Anthony owns and operates two other restaurants, the year-round Fat Tuna in Waterford , the seasonal Tony D’s Craft Creamery and the shop next to the New London location called Tony D’s Pasta shop. His brother Salvatore has his own New London restaurant vibe going on with the popular Blue Duck Restaurant and Bar on Bank Street, which opened in 2022.

    As for Tony D’s, “We have served politicians, award-winning actors, and NBA players,” Anthony said. “We have survived an industry-crushing pandemic. The vision of my great-grandparents has far surpassed our wildest dreams. We have been delighted to share their love for food, family, and tradition.”

    “Just keep cookin” may sound like an advertising slogan, but for the D’Angelos it’s been a way of life.

    Lee Howard is The Day’s business editor. He can be reached by email at l.howard@theday.com.

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