Spotlight: Gigino Trattoria

Because this site focuses on news, the businesses that have been around awhile—and that make this neighborhood special—don’t get the coverage they should. Spotlight attempts to make up for that. This one is also a special occasion: Gigino Trattoria is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The Q&A was answered by Bob Giraldi, who founded the restaurant and now owns it with his wife, Patti Greaney.

A big Tribeca congratulations to both of them and their staff for playing such a crucial role in the development of the neighborhood. And do read to the end — both Patti and Bob’s impact as New Yorkers goes beyond Tribeca and the restaurant. The ‘trailer’ below shows where their worlds collide. 

How did you get started in this business?
In the early ’80s, my partner, Phil Suarez, and I were very active in the advertising film and music video industries — I was the film director and Suarez was the sales representative.

Sometime in the summer of 1983, we set off for a few vacation days in Positano, on the Amalfi coast of Italy. It was there, after a few days of feasting on some of the most delicious Italian seafood ever, lying on the beach looking out over the Tyrrhenian Sea, when we decided it might be the right time to bring that particular cuisine home with us. Of course, Manhattan boasted of many really first-rate Italian eateries; Emilio’s Ballato, Ennio & Michael’s, Il Cantinori — and our personal favorite, Da Silvano — and of course so many more, but it seemed none of them featured anything from the Amalfi Coast.

As fate would have it, we stayed at a terrific place, the Hotel Sirenuse in Positano, drank wine all night with the owner who proudly introduced us to a young, talented chef who wanted a change in his life and was willing to be coaxed into returning with us to NYC. Positano was born in Gramercy Park and remained there for 10 successful years.

In 1993, with an eye on a dynamic, emerging neighborhood, we moved to Tribeca, to this space on Greenwich Street, and renamed it Gigino Trattoria after the only head chef we’ve ever had, Luigi “Little Gigi” Celentano, the same young man we had met in Italy 10 years earlier. This year we’re celebrating 30 years in the same Tribeca location…with the very same inventive head chef.

Mr. Suarez is no longer an owner, but my wife, Patti Greaney, is now my loving partner in life and in the trattoria. As it turns out, we had crossed paths during that same vacation so many years ago in Positano.

Why here?
The space was formerly home to Tommy Tang’s, a popular Asian eatery, and it felt to us that it was the right time — and opportunity — for a move from Gramercy Park to create what we thought would become a destination restaurant. Little did we know how the neighborhood was about to change. Patti and I followed Gigino three years later, the week before our daughter was born. Tribeca has been our home now for 28 years.

What are you known for?
Well, Patti and I have been in the film and music video industry for over 50 years — she as an executive producer and me as a director– but I’m not going to list the credits. [His most critically acclaimed, which was also filed in the restaurant and in the streets of Tribeca, is 2000’s “Dinner Rush.” See more below.] If anyone’s interested, they’re easy to catch online at bob-giraldi.com.

Another part of our history that is worth mentioning: Patti created the most successful online chef and food author website ever — StarChefs. It has developed into the go-to site for culinary aficionados and industry regulars [and journalists trying to research restaurant info].

I also had the distinct pleasure of being partners with some amazing culinary geniuses, starting with Chef Luigi and also, for many memorable years, the incredible and venerable chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten [who now operates the Tin Building at the Seaport among 60 other restaurants across the globe].

Currently I am the chair of the MPS Film Directing master’s program at the School of Visual Arts in NYC, where I constantly relish my relationships with talented, curious and ambitious new directors.

Patti and I are of course both very proud of Gigino Trattoria and the contribution it continually makes to our neighborhood — 30 years and counting.

What’s the most satisfying part of what you do?
It’s whenever we are contacted by former film crew members, students or employees — people we had the pleasure of having either on our film set, in our studio, in front of or back of the camera, in the classroom or in the front and back of the house at the trattoria. The best feeling ever is when someone takes the time to let us know that they remember and have been influenced and are appreciative. Sitting at Gigino’s bar, enjoying a drink, you’d be amazed at how many former and current customers stop by to say hi and thank you. It makes us feel great.

Most popular item / dish?
Our calamari fritti is a big hit. Chef’s signature dish, Il Padrino, has been on the menu since the beginning. Linguini vongole and tagliatelle alla bolognese with Luigi’s homemade tagliatelle. Rigatoni pulcinella. Housemade Burrata e pomodorini. But for me, it’s the unexpected speciale that Luigi happens to create that evening — always amazingly fresh and alive. Besides, “twirling” is my most favorite pastime! And, I’m available to give lessons.

 

Most expensive?
I wouldn’t call osso buco d’agnello at $37.00 all that expensive, given that lamb shank is so damn costly these days — as are so many of the food items we’ve all grown up craving. However, we’ve tried our damndest to keep prices, both in-house and delivery to the Tribeca neighborhood, as low and in line with today’s budgets as possible. And especially at lunchtime, when we offer a lot for a little.

Least expensive item?
The consistently tasty calamari fritti at $18.00 and the classic Positanese favorite, linguine alle vongole at $26.00 seem like good bargains to our customers.

Your very favorite item / dish right now?
It depends on the mood for me, but in particular right now I’m thinking of when I’m finished writing this I will enjoy a tasty penne con pesto fresca — always fresh and never heavy. And no twirling necessary.

Where do you source stuff?
Chef Luigi makes most of our best ingredients in house; our mozzarella, burrata, certain pastas, pastries and pies are all made by Luigi’s hands and heart. Fish comes from our own Montauk sources as Patti is from a long line of fishermen on the East End. Chef has a consistent and reliable list of local purveyors and we are very proud of our wine list.

Tribeca has obviously changed a lot since you started. How have the changes affected your business?
It’s obvious that the constantly changing neighborhood has both ignited and antagonized an overwhelming number of local businesses. There have been significant changes in the neighborhood’s lifestyle and economy, in the city’s labor and political environments, and in the prices for goods and services. All of those have created challenges that play a more critical part in our survival than ever before.

Then, most recently and most obviously, we all suffered from the fate of the pandemic. So many decent smaller businesses shuttered and will never reopen. The trattoria held tight, we kept our staff mostly intact, lowered some prices when it seemed necessary, and tried hard to fit the new mood and dwindling numbers with a positive, patient, never-give-in attitude. We survived.

Now, among many lingering issues and changing eating habits, there’s a new challenge to an old reality called “competition.” So many new places are opening all around, fighting for what business there is. But a large part of my life had already been about encountering stiff competition in the restaurant and film industries. So we’ve tried our best to stay healthy and current: we refurbished and freshened our interior; renegotiated our lease with our neighbor, friend and landlord, Jonathan Chodosh; and worked hard to keep our loyal staff — all while Chef Luigi took a “deep breath” and worked harder than ever to keep the quality from the kitchen consistent. The beat goes on.

What percentage of your business is local?
I would say that the majority of our business is local. Of course, social media reigns — we have many people hearing about what’s going on downtown and trying us out as a destination spot. But in the end, we survive on our loyal Tribeca neighbors who, over 30 years still want a tasty, warm, often times romantic, setting with absolutely authentic Italian cuisine from the Amalfi Coast of Italy at surprisingly low prices. And little or no fuss.

We also try to operate with few surprises and more consistency — our pizza, for example, has had a really wide following [best in the neighborhood] for YEARS, always prepared with the best tomatoes available and Luigi’s homemade mozzarella, dough and sauce. Luigi has always believed “if we make it worthwhile, they will keep coming back.” And we have– and Tribecans have responded. Sounds simpler than it is, but we certainly give it our best shot most nights…

Tell me a good customer story.
Most good customer stories are funny or weird or paradoxical — but the most vivid memory of the trattoria remains as my most emotional.

I directed a feature film at the end of 2000 and it was set to be released sometime in 2001. The film is called “Dinner Rush” [trailer above] and we shot 90 percent of it in the trattoria with Danny Aiello, Sandra Bernhard, John Corbett, Summer Phoenix, Edoardo Ballerini, Mark Margolis and a host of fine Indie actors. But for me, the amazing thing about the film’s message is the bizarre similarities between art and life.

The fictional story, inspired by non-fictional events in my life, especially as a restaurateur, features a plot following a trendy “hot” Italian eatery in Tribeca, the ambitious career of its powerful blossoming star chef, his gambling-addicted sous chef, and a restaurant whose customers, on one particular evening, get caught up in the double murder of two “goombah hoodlums.” There’s also a surprise ending that delights (most of) the audience.

The film was finally finished after a year of editing, set to music and ready to be released when the sudden attacks on 9/11 of the World Trade Center stopped it all. Nothing was released. All movie-going halted– the country was not ready for entertainment– just sorrow and outrage.

Then there was the work cleaning up the disaster. Our trattoria was engulfed in smoke and dust, a mere few blocks north of the collapsing buildings. Yet the thing that will stick with me forever is witnessing the daily rising, applauding and tears from every single lunchtime customer whenever a city worker, policeman or fireman came in to get a quick lunch and drink before going back to the work of retrieving people they never met.

At that time, there were no movie sets, no actors — only real life. Lying in bed every night hearing sirens leaving the site and heading uptown, I would think about how every afternoon I would witness our customers give standing ovations to the real stars.

 

Where do you eat/drink/shop around here?
For food, Patti and I like to start the day with “a coffee and…” most times at Gotan or Laughing Man. If not lunch at Gigino’s, a quick sandwich from Clementine. Dinner at One White Street or over the years we’ve always loved Drew Nieporent’s places for a calm experience. Chores at Tribeca Cleaners. Our friend Andy Scheman’s Ace Hardware store. Haircuts at Tribeca Barber. Balloon Saloon for fun party items since our daughter was born. And for luxury, our friend Nili Lotan’s clothing holds us together.

What does the future hold?
Not sure. If you know, please let us in on things. I guess we’ll keep going, keep smiling, keep creating and hopefully Gigino Trattoria will be around to celebrate another 30 years at the same location.

What didn’t I ask?
For a lunch reservation for four people at the trattoria.

Previously in this series:
••• Korin
••• Hal Bromm Gallery
••• Tortola Salon
••• R & Company
••• Duane Park Patisserie
••• Chambers Street Wines
••• Floratech
••• Estancia 460
••• Boomerang Toys
••• Benvenuto Cafe
••• Real Pilates
••• Church Street School for Music and Art
••• Church Street Surplus
••• Lance Lappin Salon
••• Joseph Carini Carpets
••• Balloon Saloon
••• Fountain Pen Hospital
••• Abhaya
••• Chambers Pottery
••• Square Diner
••• Double Knot
••• Philip Williams Posters

 

7 Comments

  1. My whole family loves eating at Gigino for years and it’s always delicious! ( I personally love the orecchiette with broccoli rabe & sausage) My favorite memory is one year my husband and I were going out for dinner on Valentine’s Day and our babysitter ordered a pizza from Gigino with the comment “Please no basil- this is for kids and they really hate basil ” Gigino made a pizza in the shape of a heart ! Needless to say there wasn’t a piece of basil on it and they made the kids Valentines day!

  2. Beautiful article about a beautiful place. I’ve lived in the neighborhood since 1998 and have had the pleasure and privilege of dining at Gigino on dozens and dozens of occasions. It is by far my favorite restaurant in TriBeCa. I have never had a single bad meal here—something I can say about no other restaurant I’ve regularly visited. I loved it when I lived alone and, since 2006, it has become a cherished place for my wife and me. Reading the article makes us want to go tonight! Happy 30th anniversary Gigino. Wishing you many more, with us at your tables.
    Also, Bob: thank you for all the videos. Hard to choose but “Love is a Battlefield” makes it by a hair. It had a tremendous influence on this young suburbanite’s mythology around the City, a decade before I would come to love here.

  3. Thanks for publishing this piece. Happy 30th Anniversary Gigino’s Trattoria!! We have been customers for almost 25 years, and similar to Noah’s comment above, we have never been disappointed. The food is consistently delicious with amazing quality. I lived in Italy for a year, and after that experience, my standards for great Italian cuisine went up accordingly. Gigino’s always meets those standards, so thank you Luigi! It is our go to place, for family events, for date nights, for everything. Il Padrino is a favorite for my son as well as my father in law, and we love that it is always on the menu!
    It is very hard for me to opt for another place when I want great Italian, as I can’t bear the thought of being disappointed, so inevitably, we decide on Gigino’s!
    There have been some consistent staff that are lovely as well and that’s always nice to see, the loyalty on both ends.
    Throughout the turmoil over the years, we are always happy to see Gigino’s standing, and that is another reason we keep returning. We couldn’t bear to see it disappear like so many other local businesses, so if we can do our small part to help one of our favorite local establishments, we always will. Salute e Forza Gigino’s!!

  4. great article/interview!
    Gigino is almost as old as Duane Park Patisserie, and we have “grown up” together in our home town.
    Gigino has been/is my “go to” place for my important life celebrations: My Birthday for sure and ALWAYS , at my request, “Mother’s Day” i have a series of years of pix of me and my two kiddos( now adults) at Gigino on mother’s day,

    Gigino is also the “treat my team” place. when we want a change from what we make we ALWAYS order from Gigino. the number used to be on speed dial( i’m dating myself)

    Gigino Wagner Park has also played a role in my family as we celebrated summer milestone events there like high school and college graduations. before the Wagner Park reconstruction, i brought my 10 month old grandson there so he- and we – could share with his mamma a happy experience..

    the horror of 9/11 affected all of us in our town.
    the FTVN did it’s best to help- Luigi and I were featured on a segment of “downtown” food businesses, aimed at helping us , even though NO ONE was allowed to enter south of Canal St!

    i am especially sad that the film Dinner Rush did not get anywhere near it’s due. IMHO it is pretty entertaining- particularly because i know the industry.
    with the popularity of shows like “The Bear” is there a re-release in the forecast?

    Thank you Bob, Patti( and in the old days Phil) for everything
    Madeline

    • Madeline, you are reminding me that we had my mother’s 75th birthday party at Gigino Wagner Park! (And my nephew’s 18th at Gigino Greenwich.)

  5. Just dropped in for dinner with an old friend a couple nights ago. Bravo! Still the Pride of Tribeca – one of those truly wonderful restaurants an entire neighborhood, and an entire city, can cherish. Here’s to another 30 years.

  6. My husband is a lamb shanks kinda guy and has been loving Gigino’s Osso Bucco since Bob opened his doors. We live on Duane Street but our daughter was born in 1983 so we did lots of take out and the food always the best. Thank you Gigino!

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