Remembering Papa Joe

Papa Joe. That’s the moniker I attributed to Giuseppe “Joe” Gismondi, the entrepreneurial restaurateur, who transformed dining in Boca Raton.

Arriving in America at age 19, he honed his culinary skills at the family restaurant in Long Island. He came to Boca in 1981 and opened his classic Italian/Mediterranean restaurant, Arturo’s, in 1983 (he built the facility). Today under the direction of his brother, Vincent, it remains one of Boca Raton’s icons.

Our dear friend died quietly last week at his home at age 77. What a loss, not only to his family but to the community who embraced his gregarious personality and elegant style. My wife Margaret Mary and I first dined at Arturo’s in 1983 at the suggestion of Don Ross, then-president of Lynn University. Joe was the chef and the food was magnificent—Italian dishes with time-tested family recipes from his home in Sora, Italy.

Joe was a very particular person. I can’t remember a night in his restaurant that he didn’t visit every diner’s table in his starched chef’s uniform complete with a brilliant white toque. There was no one like him. But the real joy was when Joe approached your table; his smile reached from Boca to Long Island. He made everyone feel special, real special—an attribute that few possess. He genuinely loved his customers and they him.

In the early days Joe required all gentlemen to wear jackets when they dined at Arturo’s. Floridians were not accustomed to this but he was steadfast in enforcing this policy. On two occasions I forgot the jacket and was given one to wear from the vast inventory of two to three threadbare ones. I sported one that was 10 sizes too small; the sleeves went up halfway up my arm and the jacket went half way around my body. I looked like something out of “The Little Rascals.”

He required all his servers to wear tuxedos—a touch seldom seen anymore in restaurants—and one that remains some 35 years later. Joseph was a man for his times, quiet, reserved and disciplined. He demanded the best and delivered the best. He and his charming wife Gabriella were great partners: She was Mrs. Outside greeting the customers and he was Mr. Inside preparing delicious Italian cuisine.

Joe’s legacy remains at the restaurant he started and with his son, Arturo, who himself has established a reputation as a fine restaurateur. Arturo’s Trattoria Romana is outstanding, his French restaurant La Nouvelle Maison is delightful, and his casual restaurants Biergarten and Luff’s Fish House are two other beloved establishments in Boca Raton.

Pap Joe’s smiling face and firm handshake will be missed not only by family but by the friends he cultivated through his culinary skills and genuine love of people. When you have a friend like him, you hold on to him, even in death.

God Bless you Papa Joe. You were larger than life.