Orange County lost a good one recently with the passing of Al Genovese, who was the heart and soul of the epic Restaurant Genovese along with his late wife, Margie, who passed last spring. Al lived a nice, long life, stretching out his active years until recently after having some health issues. Working front of house can be tiring for the hardiest of souls at any age, but he rocked it as hard as any octogenarian could—and probably would give any restaurant GM half his age a run for their money. A post on the restaurant’s Facebook page alerted me to the sad news.
I met Al years ago at the gym of all places (he was an avid gym-goer, by the way). My schedule in the Biz means I generally try to work out before my night shift, and he was always there when I was. That’s restaurant life. I sat on the exercise bike next to his one time and was messing around on my phone when I caught him looking at me. I took off my headphones, and he asked me “Hey, what are you? Some kind of a chef?” I told him that I was in the restaurant business. He said he knew it because I was at the gym the same time as him every day. I was actually ashamed when I found out what joint he owned, as I had never been there; I decided to handle that situation as quickly as possible. So a few weeks late, I entered the grand cavern of mid-century Italian/American kitsch called Restaurant Genovese, and it was like coming home. It felt like a old-school Italian joint in San Francisco’s North Beach and was just stuffed to the rafters with a perfect amount of colorful clutter. And the food was good, too.
A bit later, I decided to pen a piece on the Genovese saga and got an opportunity to hang out with Margie in the early morning as she prepped meatballs and pasta. I also spent time with Al as he teetered in his ever-so-graceful way around the dining room, handing out trinkets to the guests. He gave me an earful about what made a restaurant great and was as animated about it as any other sage peddling their wares—he knew what he was talking about.
Al had a way about him built on years of giving. In my piece, I said there’s also a strange reverence for him in the room, reserved for someone who has been around so long and done so much for so many. It’s equally about looking after Al as it is about him looking after others. There was a lot of love around him, that’s for sure.
One thing I’ll miss about Al—and it’s silly—is that whenever I saw him, I’d ask, “How ya doin today, Al?” and he always answered in his endearing, slightly glazed-over George Burns way, “I wish I knew!” Well, Al, I hope wherever you are you right now, things are pleasant, you know exactly how you’re doing, and your beloved Margie has something hearty on the stove working for supper. Thanks for your time, opinions and kind company. I’ll see you in the great café in the sky.
Al was a gifted businessman, doting husband, loving father and good friend—and he was also generous to a fault. His daughter Toni said operationsat Restaurant Genovese will continue as they have for decades, “flavoring their garlic with food.” Make it a point to swing by for a bite. Al isn’t there anymore, but you should be.
Chef, writer, bartender, photographer and overall bearer of mirth.