After 43 years as an area favorite, Graziano's Casa Mia has closed.
The family-owned Italian restaurant on Route 196 in Lisbon shut its doors Sunday. Owner Joe Graziano Jr. said the family decided a week or two ago to close, but told only employees. The decision to close was heart-wrenching, he said, and they weren't sure they could manage a flood of emotional goodbyes.
"If we had made a big deal of it, I think we might have had a little trouble handling the outpouring, the emotion, the workload, too," he said. "We did have a lot of work to do to try to get this done. We had to follow it through as quickly as possible."
Graziano put the property up for sale nearly a year ago. He had planned to re-establish the restaurant in a newer, smaller building somewhere else, but the Lisbon property never sold. Graziano said the family simply couldn't afford to keep the restaurant going in its current state.
"The money that was coming in was not enough to cover the money that was going out," he said.
Joe Graziano Sr. opened Graziano's as a bar in 1969. As the clientele kept growing, so did the property, with the family buying adjacent buildings and adding on where necessary.
"I've been there since I was, probably, 15 years old. That's about 30 years ago," Graziano said. "I was brought up there. Learned everything from the ground up."
The elder Graziano died in 2000, leaving the operation in the hands of his wife and children. Soon after, the town renamed the entire block Graziano's Square.
Recently, the younger Graziano ran the restaurant with one of his sisters, Mary Frances Richard, and his wife, Robin Graziano.
Although the restaurant was still popular, expenses — particularly oil and propane — were high and the economy was poor. A few years ago, Graziano's cut its hours, staying open three days instead of four in hopes of cutting expenses enough to balance the budget. It didn't work. The property went up for sale, but that didn't work, either.
"Within a year, we had very little interest in the property," Graziano said. "We just figured it was time to do it."
He announced the restaurant's closure on its Facebook page Friday.
"We literally couldn't have done it without you," the message said. "We leave with our heads held high, full of memories and garlic, a little worse for the wear, but proud nonetheless. We know that the spirit of Joe will remain within us for having been a part of this establishment, and we thank him for allowing us to live his dream for all these years."
Within hours, more than 100 people had commented on the post.
"The restaurant brought good food, laughter and love to the community. Thank you for the memories," one person wrote.
"The end of an era. Irreplaceable," wrote another.
Scott Benson, Lisbon's economic and community development director, called it a "tough day for the town."
"We lose a little bit of Lisbon, along with closing a popular restaurant," he said.
Still, he said, he understood why the family decided to close the business. The town had hoped to help them sell the property, find a new location, stay in business. But whatever help it could provide wasn't enough or soon enough.
"I understand completely why they may have made this decision," Benson said.
The Graziano's property remains for sale. Graziano hopes one day to reopen the restaurant in a new location, but he said that won't happen anytime soon. For now, he will look for work, likely in the restaurant industry.
On Friday, he checked the response to his Facebook post once in a while, but mostly he tried not to talk about the closure. It was too emotional. But he wanted to say something to Graziano's patrons.
"Thank you. Thank you. You're the best. We've had a lot of regulars and those are especially the ones I should thank. Forty-three years," he said. "It was one of those decisions you just have to make."