The New Year has brought a new owner for a neighborhood family restaurant and the closing of another.
Lee Rupnik bought D&J COFFEE, avoiding foreclosure proceedings on the 915 W. Laurel St. establishment which has been in the Price family since 1974. Meanwhile, on the east side of town, PIZZERIA GALLINA closed after four decades of serving authentic Sicilian pies at the Capital City Mall.
“The wife and I decided it was time to retire,” Vito Randazzo said Monday during a cleaning at 3133 S. Dirksen Parkway where he and his wife Dee had operated the family business since 1987.
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The Randazzo took over the business, initially opened in 1978 by Vito’s brother-in-law, Tony Gallina.
That same year, Tony’s brother Joe opened what is now known as JOE GALLINA in downtown Springfield. Joe Gallina’s operates at 432 E. Monroe St.
“We decided we had enough,” said Vito Randazzo, adding that New Years Eve was the last day of operations at the Capital City mall. “It was awesome. We had a bullet. But it was time to end it.
It looked like D&J Cafe was heading for the same spell until Rupnik intervened.
“I was aware of foreclosure issues and was able to work with the bank to buy it,” said Rupnik, who has been the owner of the cafe at the corner of State and Laurel streets since he was a child.
“It’s a tradition, to eat there with friends after school (at the Sacré-Cœur-Griffin), to go out with the family after mass.
“I’ve always liked the cookies and the sauce, but also the location. It is a very tight-knit neighborhood. I love the food but I love the neighborhood vibe even more.
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Rupnik – who two years ago made a similar turnaround with LUCA PIZZA – is now the sole owner of D&J Cafe. The sale took place without shutting down the business, and Rupnik said he kept the same management and most of the servers.
There are plans to refresh the cafe and DoorDash will provide delivery service by the end of the month, but normal business hours will not be affected.
The hours are from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends.
“We look forward to inviting families again,” he said. “The only changes planned are more smiles and paint on the walls. The food is good. He doesn’t need work. Just the business side.
Dennis and Brenda Price opened the cafe in 1974.
Their sons John and Dennis Jr – whose initials provide the name of the café – took over the reins after their parents retired. John has been running the business solo since 2012.
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Rupnik also grew up on the Springfield food scene, though his purchase of Luca Pizza in January 2020 was his first foray into owning his.
Lee is only the third owner of Luca Pizza, which was opened by Salvatore and Anna Caro in 1977 as one of the first tenants of the White Oaks Mall.
Lee worked in the many establishments of his father Joe Rupnik, including THE DUBLIN PUB, and the old one VIC’S PIZZA and THE HOUSE OF PASTA CO.
And Grandpa John Rupnik Jr. is among the names attached to helping create and popularize Springfield’s signature dish – the horseshoe.
John Rupnik Jr. was an apprentice chef at the Leland Hotel when the original horseshoe – an elegant presentation of a slice of ham and wedge potatoes topped with Welsh rarebit sauce – was served as a special dish at the chic downtown hotel, according to the tome “Springfield’s Celebrated Horseshoe Sandwich.”
John Rupnik Jr. was the chef when the Leland was more laid back RED LION TAVERN opened with the horseshoe as a regular menu selection. Rupnik’s version of the dish was more like the modern horseshoe, with fries in place of potato wedges and multiple choices of meat toppings.
Lee Rupnik says he realizes he is moving forward carrying both his last name’s reputation and that of D&J Cafe.
“I worked the Sunday rush and at least 30 people thanked me for keeping it open,” he said. “I’m going to bring some lessons I learned from Luca’s turnaround. More support for staff. More communication with the customer.
Natalie Morris can be reached at 737-7254 or by email at [email protected]