Second Street won’t be the same without Papalucci’s and its locally famous garlic rolls.
Since owner Danny Tarrantine, 72, announced that he and the restaurant would be retiring at the end of this month after nearly three decades in business, there are already hundreds of fans on social media lamenting Papalucci’s closure with crying emojis.
“We’ll have to go before they do!” wrote one man.
Others pleaded for recipes.
And most, it seems, are stopping by in person for a last bite.
“We’ve been just slammed,” Tarrantine said on a loud Monday afternoon. “I’m surprised it’s been as busy as it’s been. People who’ve eaten here before are coming out of the woodwork to say goodbye.”
The final day for Papalucci’s will be Sept. 30.
Tarrantine, who is in remission from cancer, said it’s simply time for him to retire and spend more time with his wife and grown children.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business since college, for more than 50 years. I love restaurants, but it’s time,” he said. “I’d like to spend some weekends with my wife for once.”
The restaurateur, who lives in Irvine, opened Papalucci’s in 1990. He already had a similar eatery in Pasadena called Tarrantino’s Pizza (which has the same menu and is staying open), and he said he knew he wanted to expand when he saw a vacancy in the Shore.
“I always wanted to own a restaurant,” he said, noting that his East Coast upbringing included cooking with his Italian-born grandmother. “When I came to California there wasn’t much real Italian food.”
What he built at the westernmost corner of Second Street has been a casual community eatery with a strong take-out business and welcoming tables with checkered cloths. There’s an open kitchen and family photos on the walls.
Not much has changed in the past three decades, not even the customers.
“I’ve seen families grow up here,” Tarrantine said.
Choosing to retire hasn’t been an easy decision, and it’s one made especially tough because Tarrantine said he’ll miss staffers like Lou, Miguel and Macario, who have been at Papalucci’s since it first opened. At least one couple married after working together at Papalucci's.
“The thing I attribute my success to is my staff,” he said. “The recipes are mine, but they’ve been the backbone.”
It’ll be business as usual at 4611 E. Second St. through Sept. 30. For details, visit PapaluccisItalian.com or call 562-434-4454.