GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Florindo's Italian Cuisine, at 721 Grand Ave., will serve its last meals on Oct. 31 after nearly 24 years in business at the same location.
Florent and Roza Gallicchio said they are retiring so they can travel and enjoy their remaining years, dividing their time between homes in Silt and the south of France.
They are talking to a potential buyer of the business and the building, but no deal has been inked, Florent said.
"I am excited," said Florent, 66, who speaks with a gentle Italian accent. "Also, I am puzzled, because I don't know how I'm going to handle my retirement. I'm happy and sad."
Roza, the restaurant's hostess, concurred with Florent's sentiments.
"I'm going to miss my customers," she said, her English strongly accented by her native Hungarian. "I like them so much, enough to give them a hug when they come in."
Others are sad, as well.
"I hate to see them close," said John Reeves, a longtime area resident. "I've always enjoyed going there. We had two good restaurants, Florindo's and The Sopris." The Sopris, owned by Kurt Wigger, closed in 2006.
Reeves said he dines at Florindo's several times a month.
"We're going down there for dinner with Ed Mulhall tomorrow night," he said Wednesday.
The Gallicchios are also close friends with their nearest competitor, Ashton Durrett, owner of the Italian Underground at 715 Grand.
"I'm certainly going to miss him, I really am," Durrett said. "I think we've had a good relationship. I would turn business to him, and he to us."
As the owners of downtown restaurants serving Italian food, they have much in common.
"We used to spend a lot of time together in the late evenings, when I was waiting to close down or he was, kibitzing about stuff," Durrett said.
There will be no grand final party, Florent said.
"I'm not celebrating anything," he explained. "I want to go out quietly."
Roza, 69, said she is encouraging Florent to write a cookbook, a remark that made him grin shyly.
"I love to work with veal," Florent said of the art of cooking as he practices it.
"My personal favorite recipe is the double-cut veal chop, grilled, and then served with a shiitake Marsala demi-glace. My other trademark dish is a poached salmon with mixed vegetables in a lemon-dill, capers and white wine sauce, and poached in a parchment paper."
He creates his recipes at the restaurant, sometimes on his own.
"I have the salmon, which I serve different ways, and one day I say, let me try this," he said.
He used salmon in a rigatoni recipe he had been making with baby shrimp, to arrive at the poached salmon dish.
"Those are my signature dishes," he said. "Those are what the customers come for, from all over."
And sometimes, he said, a regular customer will come back into the kitchen to suggest a dish. If it seems interesting to Florent, he'll give it a try.
If it's good, he said with a laugh, "We name it." And often it will end up on the menu.
For Florent and Roza, the recipes are one thing, and their lives together are another.
"Wait until you read my book," Roza said with a proud smile. "I'm going to write my life story."
The couple met and married in New York in 1970, shortly after each had immigrated to the U.S.
In between New York and Colorado, the Gallicchios moved to Miami for more than a decade, where Florent was chef in some of Miami's most popular restaurants.
Being a restaurateur was not his intended career, Florent said, but "it was one of the greatest experiences of our life."
Born in Italy, Florent also lived in France for 16 years as a youth. His work in Europe was as a welder.
When he arrived in New York at the age of 24, he had no intention of getting into the restaurant business.
But he needed work, he said, "so I end up washing dishes for one restaurant."
One day, he said, one of the chefs in the restaurant, the Villa Nova in Pelham, N.Y., walked out after a dispute with the owner.
Florent, who happened to be there and willing to learn, was drafted into service as an apprentice replacement chef, embarking on a new career.
Roza said she had worked as a barber in Hungary, which had been taken over by the Soviet Union following the end of World War II.
"I escaped from a communist country, and I stay in a refugee camp in Greece for six months," she said simply. "It was fun. I was young. I was cutting some hair, and [working] in the kitchen."
But her goal all along was to come to the U.S., which she did in 1969, a year after Florent had arrived.
In 1970, on Roza's birthday, April 5, Florent spotted her walking along a New York City street as he was driving his father to a nearby bus station.
Florent said he hurried to drop off his dad, hustled back, found Roza and tried to introduce himself.
She spoke no French or Italian, he spoke no Hungarian, so their initial communication was by sign language.
"And we never left each other since," Florent declared with a smile. "We both teach ourself English."
They came to Colorado in 1988 on a vacation, staying in Avon. On their last day in Colorado, they heard about the Hot Springs Pool in Glenwood Springs and came to see it with their young son in tow.
That day, Roza recalled, "I said to Flor, this is it. We're moving."
Leaving their car in Glenwood Springs, at the home of a new acquaintance, they flew back to Miami, packed up their lives, and returned to Colorado.
Buying a home in Canyon Creek, they expected Florent to take a job at a restaurant in Aspen.
"But it didn't work out," he said.
At Roza's urging, he started looking for an opportunity in Glenwood Springs, and found one. The space once occupied by the Grand Avenue Deli was up for sale.
Lacking cash, Florent went to one bank and was rebuffed, then recalled meeting Alpine Bank President Bob Young while the couple were house hunting.
"He gave me his card and said, 'If you need anything, call me.' So I did," Florent remembered. "I was here, nobody knows me, and he gives me a loan."
And the rest is local culinary history.
Florent and Roza both said they are eager to travel in the U.S., using a new RV, and in Europe, particularly since an old friend will sometimes be nearby.
Ashton Durrett's family owns a home in Italy, and both men say they look forward to sustaining the friendship they began as competitors.
"We will be two hours from each other," Florent said. "They will come to our home, and we'll go to their home to visit."
Asked if he has any parting advice for aspiring restaurateurs, Florent said without pausing, "Work hard, enjoy what you do, and be generous."