Photo showcase: The Caniglia family and their Omaha restaurants * * *
The Caniglia name, long synonymous with Omaha Italian food, will soon vanish from its final Italian restaurant marquee.
Caniglia's Venice Inn, the steakhouse that opened in 1957, is shuttering its doors in May.
Once the Ak-Sar-Ben-area restaurant serves its last plate of mostaccioli on May 3, no Caniglia-named Italian restaurant will exist in Omaha for the first time in 94 years.
“In the restaurant business,” Jerry Caniglia said, “there is no retirement plan.”
The Caniglia brothers, Jerry and Chuck, have sold the restaurant at 6920 Pacific St. to a developer that they declined to name.
When asked whether Venice Inn will close for sure, Jerry Caniglia said it's “99.9 percent sure.”
Caniglia said he did not know what might open at the space, or whether it would be another restaurant or an office building.
If they had received such an offer from a developer 10 years ago, Caniglia said, they would have likely turned it down.
“The time is right now,” he said. “We've been 100 years in Omaha, close to it, and that is a long time. We are just ready to start taking it easy.”
The main reason the brothers have decided to sell is age: Jerry is 64, Chuck close to 70.
“We want to start enjoying our family,” Jerry Caniglia said.
Jerry Caniglia started working at the restaurant when he was 9, washing dishes. At 12 years old, both he and Chuck Caniglia bussed tables at their father Eli's restaurant. At age 14, Jerry started cooking pizzas.
In its heyday in the 1960s and '70s, Venice Inn benefited from its proximity to Ak-Sar-Ben's busy race track and nightlife scene. Chuck Caniglia said the new Aksarben Village is one reason he thinks the brothers got an offer on their business now.
The Caniglia food dynasty began with Sicilians Cirino Caniglia and his wife, Giovanna, who moved to Omaha before World War I and opened a bakery in Little Italy in 1920. The bakery later became Caniglia's Pizzaria and then the Original Caniglia's Steakhouse, which closed in 2005.
Their children and grandchildren opened and operated many now-closed Omaha classics: Mister C's Steakhouse, Al Caniglia's Drawing Room, Palazzo 'Taliano, Luigi's, Top of the World at Woodmen Tower and numerous others.
Other Caniglia relatives are still involved in the Omaha restaurant scene, including two Caniglia descendants who own and operate famed steakhouse Piccolo Pete's. A distant cousin of Chuck and Jerry Caniglia runs the 11-Worth Cafe.
Nostalgic diners have 12 weeks to savor a New York strip or sip an Old Fashioned in the dimly lit lounge at Venice Inn.
The thing both Chuck and Jerry Caniglia say they will miss most about their restaurant is their loyal staff and customers.
“We're so lucky,” Chuck Caniglia said. “Without those people, we never would have survived.”
The brothers plan to work every day until the restaurant closes, and they will be open for at least one more holiday: Berkshire Hathaway weekend.
Video: A history of the Caniglia family restaurants