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On the Town: Fundraiser brings well-known Italian restaurant back to life

Along with a community’s churches, schools and parks, there are few places, outside of our homes, that provide a venue for special occasions, such as its restaurants.

From holiday gatherings and wedding receptions, to birthdays, anniversaries and post-funeral celebrations of lives lost, restaurants, especially the family-owned eateries that have, all-too-rapidly, become relics of the past, are places that have fed our souls and memories as well as our stomachs.

Since the advent of the big chain restaurants that began to creep into most every U.S. city by the 1970s, each succeeding decade has seen the closure of more and more privately-owned restaurants.

These closures don’t simply mark the end of a business. When their doors close, and their structures are razed to make way for an office building or parking structure, they leave only memories of their totally unique ambiance, smells, tastes, sounds and people.

In Burbank, one of the most venerable of its now-gone eateries was Genio’s Italian restaurant.

Located at the intersection where Olive and Verdugo avenues cross, now the home of the Social Security building, Genio’s poured libations, dished up family recipes and made untold memories from 1952 until 2006.

Although Genio’s has been gone for over a decade, this past week gave those who loved the restaurant, established by Genio Cechini, who then handed it down to his son, Marvin Cechini, a chance to relive memories made over a half century.

Serving as a fundraiser to benefit the work of the Burbank Elks, Marvin, his brother Gene Cechini and numerous members of the Cechini family, along with a contingent of the restaurant’s former kitchen crew and wait staff, reunited to cook up and serve more than 200 guests some of Genio’s most popular dishes at the Burbank Elks Lodge.

Among the former Genio’s staff who once again worked together to cook and serve were head chef Jose Lopez, his assistant Rito Puente, and waitresses Alicia Robinson, Nancy Smallwood, Janie Jaquez and Wendy Johnson.

Along with the food and staff, guests were further sucked back in time as the walls of the Elks Hollywood Way facility were adorned with original art that once hung in the restaurant, including caricatures of the establishment’s founder arriving in Baltimore via ship from Italy in 1923, opening his Burbank restaurant in 1952 and providing civic and church service with his wife, Joan.

Between courses, the conversation from one table to the next was rife with old stories of special occasions celebrated at Genio’s including the uncountable meeting of various Burbank civic groups who held their weekly and monthly meetings there.

According to John Coyle, who serves as the Burbank Elks exalted ruler, proceeds from the Genio’s reunion will assist the organization in its support to numerous local charities including the Burbank Bike Angels, Wounded Warrior Project, Burbank Corps of the Salvation Army, Family Promise, Burbank Temporary Aid Center, Ronald McDonald House, Foothill Service for the Blind, the Family Services Agency of Burbank and the California Hearing Dog Program.

The organization also awards scholarships to students from Burbank’s public and parochial high schools.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.