Vegas Seven

Best Family-run Restaurant

Gaetano's

Photo by Andrew Sea James

All in the Family

Gaetano’s Ristorante passes the baton to the future

When Gaetano’s Ristorante in Henderson opened in 2002, the city was a lot different. St. Rose Parkway and Eastern Avenue were single lanes, and where the two intersected, there was a four-way stop sign. Food options were sparse, and Taco Bell was the go-to.

Obviously, a lot has changed in the 15 years Gaetano’s has been open. Actually, everything has changed—except Gaetano’s.

It’s still in the same strip mall and still serving traditional Italian meals made from scratch. And it’s still family-owned. As the husband-and-wife team of Gaetano and Rory Palmeri get ready to retire, the torch of this fine dining establishment is being passed down to one of their sons, Nick, to keep the legacy going.

The history of Gaetano’s Ristorante actually started long before the family landed in the desert. They had the same restaurant operating in Calabasas, California, from 1981 to 2001, when they relocated to Henderson.

“We didn’t come here to open a business. We came here to retire,” Gaetano says in his thick Italian accent. “Instead, we opened the restaurant to be busy.”

The concept took a little getting used to. Gaetano recalls it wasn’t what Las Vegas diners were accustomed to, and there was a bit of a learning curve in teaching people al dente wasn’t actually an undercooked pasta, but that it’s meant to be like that.

Soon enough, locals began to value the restaurant and what it was offering.

“When we moved here, everything was a chain,” Rory says. “Our uniqueness is that we aren’t a chain, we are family-owned, we know our customers. We have tons of repeat business and people who come for the ambiance, service and food.”

And now Nick is set to take Gaetano’s to the next level. He knows the eatery is a gem in the city and appreciates the value of bringing in younger diners, something he is focused on as he prepares to become the owner.

“A challenge is changing with the times, especially trying to attract the millennials and younger diners,” he says. “It’s about knowing what their likes and wants are and making them feel comfortable when they come into a restaurant like this, with traditional linens and personal service.”

He’s started to expand the Gaetano’s spirit program, making barrel-aged Manhattans. He even plans to host a series of tastings in the next few months to appeal to a younger crowd, while still making sure the drinks complement the powerful flavors of the dishes.

“I’m trying to get people engaged,” he says. “I want to start an educational/industry hub when it comes to wine and spirits in Henderson. You see a lot of people going to the west side of town and doing industry stuff … so I’m trying to establish more of an industry following.”

Even with Nick helming the restaurant, don’t expect Gaetano and Rory to disappear.

“I will always come to help him out, even if I’m retired,” Gaetano promises. “Otherwise, I’m going to die. … When you’re retired, after two years, you die if you’re doing nothing.” –Diana Edelman

Gaetano’s

10271 S. Eastern Ave., gaetanoslasvegas.com

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