TAMPA — Tony’s Ybor Restaurant will close on Sept. 2 after 93 years of serving Italian food and Ybor City cuisine via a cafeteria-style buffet.
The third-generation owner, Larry Scaglione, made the announcement on his Facebook page Tuesday morning.
“It has been a wonderful run,” he wrote. “Some people are gonna wonder why. It’s just time.”
Scaglione, 60, told the Tampa Bay Times that he has been considering closing for the last year but made the decision on Monday.
“I have been here for 40 years,” he said. “Getting up every morning at 3 to go to the market for fresh vegetables, it gets rough. I need a change.”
Scaglione will continue to run a catering business, but not from the restaurant building that he owns at 2001 N 22nd St. in Ybor. He will lease that space.
“The news comes as a shock,” Ybor City Lions Club president Gene Siudut said. “The Scaglione family are as much a part of the fabric that weaves Ybor City as the lampposts and cigar factories.”
With a laugh, Siudut then added, “I’ve been a customer for 23 years and at least half of my body mass can be directly attributed to them. This is very bittersweet.”
At a banquet on Sept. 28, the Lions Club will honor Scaglione with the Victor E. DiMaio Award of Achievement, presented annually to an individual who excels in promoting and enhancing the cultural aspects of Ybor’s heritage. That decision was made prior to learning of the closing.
“Tampa won’t be the same without Tony’s,” said political consultant Victor R. DiMaio. “It’s a melting pot. No matter whether you are rich or poor, young or old, you ate at Tony’s. Tony’s accepted everybody. Eating there always felt like a family gathering.”
Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco called Tony’s “a Ybor institution.”
“It’s where movers and shakers would meet regularly,” he said. “I met a lot of people and made many lasting friendships at Tony’s, including Tony himself, until he passed, with his signature white hair and polite demeanor.”
Tony Scaglione, the restaurant’s second-generation owner, died in 2017.
“I think he would be happy for me,” Scaglione said of his father. “He knows the business. He knows the time and effort it takes to sustain something like this for all these years. I have poured my heart and soul into this.”
Due to his father’s penchant for cracking jokes, Scaglione admitted, it is hard to know the true history of the restaurant.
It was founded in 1929 by Scaglione’s grandfather, Nunzio Scaglione, and named “The Americus Restaurant.” Americus is Latin for “home ruler.”
With a laugh, Tony Scaglione would say it was supposed to be called “The America’s Restaurant,” but his family could cook better than they could spell.
“Who knows if that is true,” Scaglione laughed. “All I have ever known was The Americus.”
As Tony Scaglione told the story, he agreed to buy the restaurant from his father for $1 in 1967. He then asked his father if he could borrow $2.
That colorful personality led to the restaurant’s name change a year later. Customers began calling it Tony’s Restaurant, as in “We are going to Tony’s restaurant,” so Tony Scaglione figured he would make it official on the sign.
In his Facebook announcement, Scaglione channeled his father’s humor.
“I am going to continue to do my catering,” he wrote. “So, you’ll be able to get hold of me to do any kind of function — work, home, social, event, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and don’t forget about divorces.”
But he was more somber when talking to the Tampa Bay Times.
Diners are welcomed by pictures of the three generations of owners hanging on the wall just inside the entrance. Scaglione said it will be difficult to take those down.
“The decision to close is right,” he said. “But it’s still hard. I’ve been walking the halls for a long time. I hope we are remembered for bringing our customers joy for years through food.”