Pantaleone Bruno came to California from Italy in 1975 as a young man with a dream of being a chef and creating his own restaurant. In 1986 he did just that, opening Bruno’s Italian Restaurant, just blocks from the Santa Monica Pier. 36 years and countless hand-made pizzas later, Bruno is taking off his apron and retiring.

Over the years Bruno has watched Santa Monica change in many ways from the corner of Ocean Avenue and Seaside Terrace, but his restaurant has remained a constant in the community and earned him many loyal customers – which he said has been the best part of his career.

“The length of time that I’ve been here I’ve seen these people that have been coming – young people getting married, they have kids, then their kids have their own kids – I’ve seen a couple of generations here,” he said. “When I see those people, we’re friends, we’re not customers and really that’s the most beautiful, rewarding thing.”

Bruno said he has felt welcomed in Santa Monica from the day he bought the property that would become his iconic beachside restaurant after seeing it listed in the LA Times. He had already been in California for close to a decade, working with his Uncle at a restaurant in the San Fernando Valley and was ready to strike out on his own. He and his team, which includes his long-time chef Eduardo Gonzalez, have been serving up plates of spaghetti and chicken parmigiana ever since.

Customers saddened by Bruno’s retirement may find solace in the new owners’ commitment to keeping much about the restaurant the same, including the main menu, staff and the name.

Stefano Sparato and Eric Hanson took over the restaurant this week after Sparato visited for the first time to dine with a friend just a few months ago.

“I really loved the place since the first minute that I came here,” he said. “The first minute that I came here I said, ‘tomorrow I’m going to buy this place.’”

“He got me on the right day because I was short of help,” Bruno joked.

At age 66, he had already been thinking about retiring and his real estate agent, John Moudakis of Par Commercial Brokerage, who Bruno said used to work at the restaurant, set up the sale.

Sparato, who is also from Italy, said the restaurant’s red booths, simple decor and homey feel resonated with him and the prime ocean-front location sealed the deal.

“The location is amazing and the style is an Italian style, like how I am,” he said. “So I’d like to continue the tradition and what Bruno did, to me, is amazing and I really admire.”

In his new free-time Bruno said he plans to spend more time with his wife and son, who he is currently teaching to cook many of his recipes, and travel back to Italy more often where much of his family still lives.

grace@smdp.com

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