Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tom Macaluso

Some people are legends in their own time. Others are legends in their own mind. Kansas City restaurateur Tom Macaluso was an unique combination of both. Macaluso died Sunday, it was announced, a little over a year after he closed his legendary restaurant on 39th st. He was 58.

One rarely knew what to expect upon entering his eatery. Well, with the exception of his large frame behind the bar, a packed room and lots of noise. The place was tiny, always busy. The food, Italian fare, was usually good, but nothing really spectacular. It certainly was not a place to take a first date, or for a quiet night out. Macaluso's was a process

The question mark was Tom himself. He could be surly, usually greeting people with a gruff "sit down", "get outta the way" or "we're full, come back another time". I do not think the word "sorry" passed his lips often. He took no crap off of anyone. People tell me if you were his friend, he'd move the earth for you. Generous to his staff, many were loyal to him to the end. But, and this is part of the legend and even his charm, if a diner stiffed one of his servers for a tip, or even didn't tip as much as Tom thought they should, he'd chase after them and admonish them publicly for their sin. Some paid up, some ran like hell. I actually saw that once, I thought it was great. Being a former waiter myself, I know how snotty people can take their frustrations out on the poor schlep who slaves to bring them their dinner. On, and complain about your dinner, he'd make it right but you'd be told not to come back. If you did, he'd likely not serve you.

The vast majority of the time, he was brash, rowdy, friendly, gregarious and just plain nuts. You could tell he enjoyed life. When the business got old and the competition from other "corporate type" restaurants got to him, he called it quits. Quitting while still on top of his game, that was his style.

Tom Macaluso was the type that would never last in the corporate run "take care of our stakeholders" cookie-cutter world of the current restaurant industry. Any corporate types that managed to infiltrate his operation would have been shot on sight... or at least kicked out the door.

Addendum: since I posted this at about 7:15am this morning, I have had at least 17 people who have searched for Tom Macaluso as of 2:35 PM. Tom was unique, and will be missed by many.

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