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Banchero's Closing Is Loss Of Continuity In Our Lives

An East Bay native remembers growing up at the restaurant that was so important to his family.

 

(Editor's note: This guest essay is from independent journalist Steven Tavares, who fondly recalls the restaurant that so many San Leandrans loved.)

As a 16-year-old working at Banchero’s, I was invariably posed two questions by friends and family: do they reuse the soup and can you get the recipe for their garlic bread. The answers were no and maybe.

struck me in exactly the way I envisioned it, with instant and irretrievable longing.

I’m not going to lie, when I heard the news today, I nearly started balling at Starbucks. I not only worked at the restaurant, first as a dishwasher and later, as a busboy, but I grew up there.

The notion of Banchero’s to me, goes back, to before my father probably had any vision of my future existence.

In 1961, as an 17-year-old immigrant from Portugal, my father lived with his uncle down the street from Banchero’s. His earliest experiences in America included dining at the restaurant every Sunday afternoon.

My dad likes to describe the feisty and playful nature of John Banchero, Sr., the current owner's father. Once, when his aunt asked for the minestrone soup recipe, the precocious Italian listed each ingredient using industrial sized measurements.

I can remember as a little boy hiding under the table as we waiting for our dinner-ending scoop of ice cream (there were only three flavors: spumoni, orange sherbet and vanilla).

It was a place where waitresses loved to work so much that they seemingly never quit. It wasn’t uncommon to see the same group of women hustling around the restaurant for decades at a time.

You don’t receive that kind of loyalty without a good boss. Although a bit gruff and a whirlwind of movement, John Banchero, Jr. was a tough, but fair man. Once I was promoted to busboy, John taught me the exact method of quickly setting the table for the next group of patrons already heading down the aisle.

I thought I got the hang of it, but apparently not. One day I got a tap on the shoulder. It was John telling me at a rapid clip, “Steve, you gotta go faster. This is the Major Leagues.”

During one shift, an elderly lady actually died as she left the restaurant. I recalled thinking, ‘Older people love this place, but how long can this place stay open if their customers are literally dying to eat there?’

Of course, nothing lasts forever. I wouldn’t be lying to you when I say I knew the end of Banchero’s was near. During my last visit around Mother’s Day this year, I noticed the very things that light up so many wonderful thoughts in my memory, now reminded me how they no longer fit in with the world around us.

The relish plate contained the same number of black olives, anchovies, pickles and deli meat squares, all laid out on the same, dented silver platters where they had rested for decades, seemed lifeless.

The once bustling lobby packed with hungry patrons every Friday night, was empty. Some people long for life as it was in “Mad Men,” but that’s just a television drama shot on a Hollywood sound stage. My last meal at Banchero’s felt like that—forced and staged.

However, it wasn’t about Banchero’s, it was about me.

I know the real reason for my sadness over Banchero's closing is not necessarily missing out on its comfort foods, but the loss of precious continuity in our lives.

For over 50 years my family frequented, Banchero's during many good times. It bridged the gap from me, to my father, to his beloved uncle who brought him to America and away from abject poverty so long ago.

From color television to cell phones to the Internet, everything about life outside of that small restaurant on Mission Boulevard changed radically. Yet everything inside stayed the same.

If I could talk to my sister, who away passed in 2002, she would have no idea what an iPad is, but she would know that meatballs come with an order of spaghetti at Banchero’s.

Something bigger than food was lost this week and an opportunity for new traditions was gained.

(Steven Tavares is the founder of EastBayCITIZEN, the East Bay's independent political watchdog.)

Larry Smith June 07, 2012 at 01:38 PM
There are too many good memories from Bancheros. I wish there had been some notice. One of my fondest moments was dining there with the Italian language club from Chabot College. There was about 14 students and our professor, Mario Donofrio. As usual, the place was packed. The professor and I stared singing Italian songs and everyone loved it. Another customer, an old Italian gent, came up to our table, thanked us, and said "this had been the best time he had had in years". That was Banchero's, where good food and good times always just seemed to happen together. My family will miss it greatly, having been customers since the early 1960's. Farewell to all the wonderful staff who gave so much of themselves for all of us, you will be missed as much as the great food we loved for so long.
Bob Vincent June 07, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Went there last week. Place was packed. Food was perfect as always. What happened? I thought it was s gold mine. It was the best Italian food this side of the Mississippi.
Tom Abate (Editor) June 07, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Great stories, from Steven and others. What shocks me is that there was not a sale. Would not a business of that longevity have accumulated the good will to be saleable? Many things could explain why not a sale, from unwilling owners to bad leases (if the family OWNED the property it should be all the more saleable). So I wonder if financing for SBA loans is evaporated.
Carrie Poggio June 07, 2012 at 05:16 PM
The writer shares a vivid and spot on assessment of why this hurts so much. Sure, as a Hayward native I grew up going to Bancheros many times. As I moved away to the Sierra Nevada, my aging parents stayed behind and still frequented it often (where else can you get all that for the price?). When my mom got sick a few years ago, it was to Bancheros where my dad and my kids and I would go, because it made me feel closer to my mom. When she died in 2009, and two years later, my mother-in-law passed away, again we went to Bancheros. My husband comes from an Italian family with similar experiences and their own little Bancheros traditions. For them it stings too. The loss of continuity, of connectedness to those we shared Bancheros with and with whom we no longer share life, is very upsetting. I cried off and on all afternoon yesterday when I heard the news. I'm sure the next time I'm in Hayward, if I can bring myself to drive by the old place, I'll be crying more. Even my little boy, who is only 8, had already gone there numerous times. When I told him the news, he cried, "you mean the place with the lasagne I always eat all of?" Yeah, that place my son. "Big bummer" he said. And it is.
Kathy Armijo June 07, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Your story brought a tear to my eyes too!
Carol Parker June 07, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Thank you Steven for writing so eloquently about what so many of us feel about Banchero's. I too cried yesterday about it and again today. It truly does evoke so many memories of times and people once loved now gone. And now it too is no longer.
Paul Davis June 07, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Dang it John... Wish things were different... Enjoy my friend!
DebbyP June 08, 2012 at 12:38 AM
I am heartbroken! I'm 59, grew up in Fremont and can't remember when Banchero's wasn't THE place our family always wanted to go or get take out from. As a little girl I can remember the checkered tablecloths and drippy candles in the Chianti bottles, the fireplace that went away when they remodeled, the mysterious dark bar with the sunken pit for the bartender, and the long waIt hoping they'd call our number next as we waited for a place to sit down in the always crowded waiting room. It's one of those things you just figure will always be there for you. Kinda like family. And I definitely feel like I've lost a piece of my family. I do wish there had been some warning. I live in Sacramento now but would have driven twice the distance for one final feast at our beloved Banchero's. SOOOOO SAD.....
Andrea Marymee June 08, 2012 at 02:17 AM
I'd be one of the friends asking for the soup recipe! I'm in tears reading this blog! It breaks my heart to see Banchero's closed! I'm 27 and grew up with Banchero's. Thanks for the memories! You will be emensly missed by the Marymee/Conti and Fitzgerald families!
Hector Villareal June 08, 2012 at 10:26 PM
When I told my mother that Banchero's was closing she looked at me with disbelief. We had just celebrated my 52nd birthday there last Sunday. As always the food was perfect and we left stuffed. My family had been going to Banchero's for 42 years. Thanks for all the great memories and the great food. Hector Villareal
Michelle F June 09, 2012 at 01:21 AM
Wow! You really hit the nail on the head....it really wasn't the food that kept me coming back. Don't get me wrong, I had no complaints about the food..... It was the nostalgia....exactly what you said...the relish tray, the soup, the waitresses, the decor...the Shirley Temples (even into adulthood...just for fun!) anda the spumoni!
Larry Smith June 10, 2012 at 05:39 PM
I only hope that the owners wake up some day this week and say "what the hell did we do? Are we crazy or what? We better reopen tomorrow!!!" Please hurry, too!
Mary Jo Mahoney June 11, 2012 at 04:34 AM
How about a take-out restaurant? That would make me happy -- and alot of other people too!
princesaportuguese June 13, 2012 at 02:15 AM
First Prings, now this. SUCKS!!!!!!!

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