Last call at Geno’s Italian restaurant on North Hamilton Street will be on Saturday and when that last heaping serving of lasagna hits a checkered tablecloth, generations of loyal customers will mourn the loss of a Spokane institution.
Gina Orlando has run the restaurant since 1998. It’s closing because she got a real estate offer she couldn’t refuse.
“First, I’m going to take some time off,” Orlando said about her future plans. “But you never know, Geno’s may come back in a different location.”
Orlando’s parents, Eugene and Shirley Orlando, started selling pizzas in downtown Spokane right after World War II, and Geno’s has been in its current location since 1962.
“I went for the first time in 1969 or 1970 – I got back from Vietnam at that time,” said Ralph Kennedy of Spokane. “They’d open at 5 o’clock and there was a line outside waiting for them to open. Gina’s parents were very warm and generous people.”
Kennedy quickly became a fan and Geno’s was where he took his wife on their first date back in the ’70s. They have come back for anniversaries ever since.
“I’m sad to see the end of Geno’s. Nothing ever changed there. The food is the same quality food they always had,” said Kennedy. “We didn’t need to consult the menu at all. It was such a nice restaurant and a really nice family.”
Gina Orlando began busing tables when she was 10. She was 40 when she took over the restaurant after her parents both died.
“As a child you never think it’s going to be yours because you don’t think your parents are going to die,” she said, sitting in the restaurant on Monday.
The phone has been ringing off the hook with hungry dinner guests wanting to make one last reservation.
“I don’t take reservations, sorry,” she said, “people just have to come in here and wait.”
Among favorite dishes are the lasagna, the pizzas and of course the spaghetti and meatballs.
“It’s sad every time a locally owned places closes; I was 3 or 4 years old the first time I was there,” said Jeff Busch of Spokane. “As a kid, we always got spaghetti and meatballs.” Busch kept coming back for more through his years as a student at Gonzaga University – he was always there on his first day of school.
“It just became a tradition. Maybe the first day of school wasn’t your favorite day, but your dinner at Geno’s would be good,” Busch said. “The inside looks like a combination of ‘Lady and The Tramp’ and the set for a gangster movie. We loved it.”
Orlando said that she enjoyed the restaurant mostly because of the customers.
“It’s been so great to see everyone, I’m so grateful for that,” she said. “And working with my family has made a big, positive difference too.”
Geno’s has always been a family friendly restaurant.
“We have nine high chairs. What can I say? We are Italian, we love kids,” she said.
Just last week, five generations of the same family got a table at Geno’s one last time.
“They started coming when my dad had the first restaurant downtown,” said Orlando. “I have known them all my life.”
Fans of Geno’s are happy that the menu rarely changed. They rave about the minestrone soup and the secret-recipe salad dressing, and many have a special attachment to songs in the old jukebox – including an oddball rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
There’s no doubt it’s going to be a busy last couple of days for Orlando and her family, as people file in from near and as far away as Washington D.C. That’s were Deanna Dawson is coming from.
“Geno’s is my home away from home. When I was growing up, we ate dinner there as a family more than we did at our house,” wrote Dawson in an email. “Actually, I tell my family I am coming back to visit them. Truth is, I really come back to Spokane for Geno’s. When I heard they were closing, I had to come back one last time.”