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Old 09-01-2009, 08:17 PM   #1
Join Date: May 2000
Posts: 15,630
Default Lightfoot and Bigliardi Steak House

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Well done, George
'Time has come' as Bigliardi's to close its doors


Last Updated: 1st September 2009, 2:22am

Come Sept. 26, the long-time New York Yankees skipper won't be the only one.

After 50 years, George Bigliardi is turning off his charbroiler and hanging up his tongs at his venerable 463 Church St. steakhouse.

"My heart is not in retiring but it is something I have to do," the 73-year-old restaurateur says.

Between managing Harry's steakhouse and owning Bigliardi's, he has been serving customers on Church St. for 45 years. "It has been an honour," Bigliardi says. "I love my customers. I became part of their families and they became part of mine."

In fact, he met his wife, Carol, at the restaurant and married at 57. At 58, he became a father to his now 14-year-old daughter Victoria. "The whole thing has been dreams coming true," he says.

Any evening at Bigliardi's is reality and celebrity TV -- long before there was such a thing. The best place to see the proof is on the oak, walnut and mahogany walls where you'll see shots of Mickey Rooney, Tony Bennett, Bette Midler, Tony Curtis, Anthony Quinn, Lorne Green and Michael Douglas.

He loved them all but he has his favourite pictures. One is of music legend Gordon Lightfoot, whom he's known for 40 years.

Another one is of Detroit Red Wings executive Jim Devellano, who had his Stanley Cup party at Bigliardi's -- the closest that trophy has ever got to Church and Carlton in 40-plus years.

The picture on the wall of Bigliardi with Frank Sinatra is also special.

"I had goose bumps because I couldn't believe I was standing there talking with Frank Sinatra," he says of that 1992 appearance at the restaurant. "He was so nice. He spent a lot of time talking to me about his father."

And then there is the picture of Pope John Paul II inside the popemobile in 1984, waving to George and his staff as the procession travelled north from St. Michael's Cathedral to St. Paul's on Bloor St.

The original route was scheduled for Jarvis St. -- but turns out Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter loved his steak, too. "He changed the route for me," laughs Bigliardi. "And when they got to the front of the restaurant he told the Pope we were there."

Bigliardi's is like that. Deals get done there, cabinet ministers hired or fired, handicapping of the horses happens, hockey trades are made and sometimes the restaurant ended up on the big screen -- including last year's Flash of Genius, starring Alan Alda.

You never knew who would be in there. Former premiers Mike Harris, Ernie Eves, John Robarts. Former mayor David Crombie. Other times saw former prime ministers Brian Mulroney, Paul Martin, John Turner or Jean Chretien.

Its closing also marks the end of an era for Church St. which long before the successful Gay Pride developed, the neighbourhood was known more for its rowdy fans coming from a hockey game or concert from Maple Leaf Gardens or even being home turf for the CBC. It was also known as Steak Street.

Even after the Gardens closed and CBC relocated, Bigliardi soldiered on with the help of his longtime staff, including waiter of 22 years Angelo Dimitropoulos, who always served Bigliardi's famous Maple Leaf cut with a smile.


"The Gardens moved, the CBC moved, the economy changed and so did people's eating habits," he says. "I realize the time has come."

Bigliardi, who came to Canada from Parma, Italy, without a dime in his pocket and went from a bus boy at the King Edward Hotel to owning one of Canada's most exclusive restaurants, is scheduled to have his second knee repaired, "take a rest," spend more time around Woodbine and his small stable of thoroughbreds, and, who knows, "maybe I will come back someday with a smaller restaurant somewhere."

But it won't be at 463 Church, which will soon be the new home of Pizzaiolo Gourmet Pizza.

A new generation of memories and dining soon to begin.

But there's still 25 days left to enjoy one last steak at the place, and the time it represented.


Bigliardi and Lightfoot both have daughters that are 14 or 70 and 73 years old.

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