Charlie Gitto Sr.’s grandson Louie Vangel to open a new restaurant, with future of downtown restaurant uncertain
January 27, 2022…

By Gloria Lloyd – Reporter, St. Louis Business Journal Oct 7, 2021 Updated Oct 7, 2021, 1:11pm CDT

Louie Vangel, a grandson of the late Charlie Gitto Sr. who ran his grandfather’s famed Charlie Gitto’s Downtown restaurant for the last decade, is opening up an Italian restaurant under his own name that will carry on the family tradition.

Vangel has signed a lease for 5,618 square feet of restaurant space in the Bennett Hills Shopping Center at 10017 Manchester Road in Warson Woods, aiming to open Vangel’s Italian Restaurant by March 1. The space previously was occupied by J. Greene’s Irish Pub, which closed in June.

Meanwhile, the future of Charlie Gitto’s Downtown is uncertain.

Charlie Gitto’s Downtown, at 207 N. Sixth St., reached one of the high points in its 45-year history when Gitto Sr. ate toasted raviolis out of the St. Louis Blues’ Stanley Cup — won thanks in part to Pat Maroon, now the husband of Gitto Sr.’s granddaughter and Vangel’s sister, Francesca Vangel Maroon. But last year the restaurant faced unprecedented challenges, from the Covid-19 pandemic and Gitto Sr.’s death at age 87 in July 2020. A completely separate chain of restaurants, Charlie Gitto’s on the Hill and at Hollywood Casino, are owned by Vangel’s uncle, Charlie Gitto Jr.

Charlie Gitto’s Downtown reopened for several months after stay-at-home orders were lifted last year, but then closed in October 2020 for renovations during the baseball off season. In February, however, just as the restaurant was about to reopen, a pipe burst, causing catastrophic damage to the more than 100-year-old building. In one stroke of luck that Vangel said was “probably my grandpa looking down on me,” the priceless photos that once lined the walls had been packed up so the restaurant could be painted. None were damaged.

Vangel said the family hopes to reopen the downtown restaurant, which is now owned by his mother, Karen Gitto-Vangel. But it’s still uncertain if or when that will happen. Even without factoring in the pandemic that has slowed potential business from downtown office employees and tourists, fixing the extensive damage to the building is complicated by its age.

“It doesn’t mean that it won’t be back, just for right now, I needed to move in a different direction,” Vangel said. “We love downtown — I want to do everything I can to get it back open, but as a businessman I also have to be realistic. So hopefully we’ll get to that point. We’ll do the things to make sure that it happens and hopefully we’ll get there.”

When it became clear that Charlie Gitto’s Downtown wouldn’t be reopening soon, Vangel pushed up his plan to someday open his own restaurant. He said he hadn’t wanted to go into the restaurant business, but when he started working as a bartender there instead of going to law school, he loved it and it became the only job he ever held.

After 15 years of working next to his grandfather and parents downtown, however, the idea that Vangel will be running his own restaurant soon still hasn’t sunk in.

“It’s kind of not hit me yet — I remember I signed the lease and I was like, ‘Holy smokes, this is really going to happen,’” Vangel said. “I feel like my grandpa prepared me really well in a lot of ways, as did my parents and just my experiences. I get an opportunity to carry on the legacy that my grandpa built with my grandma, and I think that’s the most special thing to me.”

After finding a rare turnkey restaurant space in good shape in the former J. Greene’s, Vangel plans to renovate the inside and outside of the former Irish pub to match his “simple but nice, classy but casual” vision. He is in talks with some of the employees from Charlie Gitto’s Downtown to work at his restaurant, and he plans to honor the classic traditions and comfort food from the downtown restaurant while also changing things up.

Vangel said the most important aspect of his grandfather’s restaurant that he wants to retain is the neighborhood feel it had despite most of its patrons being office employees, tourists or Cardinals fans.

“Downtown, we were always the neighborhood restaurant without the neighborhood,” said Vangel. “So I want to bring the neighborhood restaurant to Warson Woods. I want this to be a place where people can come every day if they want to — if people want it to be their ‘before the baseball game’ place, it can be that for them. If they want it to be their anniversary restaurant, it can also be that. But if you want to bring in your three kids for some good food, you can do that too. It’s really for everybody. I just want people to feel like they’re home.”

The brokers who found the space for Vangel were Sansone Group’s Mark Kornfeld and Grant Mechlin. Kornfeld searched for a space for eight to nine months, and when J. Greene’s closed, Vangel beat out several competitors to sign up for the space.

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