They came for one last parmed spaghetti. One last meatball. One last Italian sausage. And of course, with a cup of that sauce on the side.
On Friday, DiTondo's Tavern, which opened on Seneca Street in 1904 and has prided itself as one of Buffalo's oldest continuously running restaurants, served its last meals. Dozens, if not hundreds, of their loyal customers crammed its wood-paneled dining area and bar for lunch and a reservations-only dinner to savor a final meal at a longtime favorite to many Buffalonians and to say goodbye to Al and Rosemary DiTondo Rohloff and the waitresses who treated their customers like family over the years.
"I'm going to miss coming here," said David Capretto, a new home builder from Buffalo. "What do you call that ... a habit ... no, a tradition. That's what it was."
He estimated he'd been stopping at the restaurant on and off for 15, 20 years "with the guys." Friday, he was with two fellow builders and they all sat down to heaping plates of pasta blanketed with cheese, broiled to golden-brown parm perfection. He ran back over to a reporter when he recalculated his history with the tavern. "It's 25 years!" he said.
DiTondo's was that sort of place — where guys and gals who work downtown would drive over during their lunch hour to tie on a plastic bib and plunge into a red-sauce extravaganza.
It was a favorite of politicians too, especially Democrats from South Buffalo.
Rep. Brian Higgins said his children grew up having Friday dinner at DiTondo's. "That goes back 25 years," Higgins said. "Al and Rosemary, they’re like family to us. ... We just have very fond memories. You talk about a consummate family restaurant. It was and it always will be."
Higgins recounted bringing guests from around the world to the old-school eatery to give them a taste of Buffalo, including Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, he said.
"Rosemary’s 92-year-old mother at the time greeted Gerry Adams at the door," Higgins said. "She said: 'Welcome to my home.' "
Among politicians who dropped by to say farewell was State Sen. Chris Jacobs, who brought by a proclamation and gave lots of hugs.
"My mom used to come here every Friday," Jacobs said.
Just as they have every weekday at lunchtime, the waitresses rushed from table to table and the kitchen staff fretted about running out of sauce. The regulars took it all in. Some whispered with excitement as they saw Buffalo actress Mary Kate O'Connell among them.
"I have to say, this is a very sad day," said Diane Calderon, who has waited tables at DiTondo's for 20 years. She had tears in her eyes as she stopped to share her feelings, then went right back to work, picking up cleared plates and asking, "You doing good?"
Dennis J. Richards, chief of detectives of the Buffalo Police Department, shared a table with three other local lawmen.
"You cannot get a better Italian sausage," Richards said, sporting a plastic "spaghetti" bib.
Michael Nigrelli, an investigator with the Erie County District Attorney's Office, lamented the loss of a favorite lunch spot.
"This place is a throwback to another era," he said. Now they'll have to find a new spot.
Edward Hempling, director of the Law Enforcement Training Academy at Erie Community College, joked: "We're going to lose some weight."
Standing behind a "please wait to be seated" sign, Jason Januszkiewicz of Orchard Park brought his mother, Ellen, for lunch, to celebrate her birthday.
"We knew it was closing but we didn't realize it was today," he said.
"So we're lucky," said the birthday girl before the two sat down to a lunch of spaghetti, stuffed haddock and a carafe of Chianti.
DiTondo's closing was hitting one table especially hard.
"It's been a big part of our lives," said Joe Tanzella, who said he's been a regular at DiTondo's since he was 7 years old. He's 77 now.
For the last three decades he and nine good friends would come every Thursday for a group lunch. The gang got together one last time on Thursday.
On Friday, Tanzella and a couple of friends brought their wives for a final meal: linguine and clams.
"We wish the DiTondos good health and good luck," Tanzella said. "Buona salute and buona fortuna."