For 22 years the little restaurant on the south side of Clarke Street has been her kitchen and everyone who walked into it has been her family.
But at the end of August, restaurateur Rosa Gabrielli is set to close the doors of the Italian eatery for the last time.
“I guess it’ll be emotional this month,” she says.
Scroll through the online reviews for Rosa’s Cucina Italiana and you’ll find a mix of anger and adoration. Some patrons described Gabrielli as abrupt, even rude. For others who drop in to celebrate milestones over meatballs, Rosa was a reason to keep come back.
“Some people love me, some people hate me,” she says. “I didn’t hate nobody. To me the customers were like friends, they were family. . . . I treated them as my family.”
She wasn’t rude, she maintains. But she was firm.
“Listen,” she would sometimes inform a customer: “this is what you’re going to eat tonight.”
And then she’d pick the Caesar Salad with the special dressing, the spaghetti and clams in white sauce or the Fettuccini Alfredo with peas, ham and mushrooms. The typical reply from the customers, she says, was: “OK, Rosa, whatever you say.”
She laughs at the memory.
Gabrielli had been in Vancouver for 22 years when she decided to bring her mother’s recipes to the City of the Arts.
“We opened the restaurant with my mom,” she says, crediting her 92-year-old mother for all the recipes – including the Caesar Salad with the special dressing.
Customers soon lined up, she says, coming from down the street and from neighbouring cities.
Asked about her long-time customers, Gabrielli does something unusual – she hesitates.
“I love my customers,” she finally says. “You’re going to make me cry now.”
The restaurant has always been a family affair, Gabrielli says, noting that she’s had her mother, herself and her daughter all working side by side.
That close-knit family might have saved the restaurant from going under during the pandemic.
“All my staff left,” she says.
As much of society hunkered down and masked up, the restaurant went to a strictly takeout operation run by Gabrielli, her husband and her daughter.
“I didn’t have to pay the staff so we survived,” she says, thanking customers for their support.
After 44 years in the restaurant business, hanging up the apron will be hard, Gabrielli acknowledges.
“I really want to thank everybody,” she says. “I’m going to miss them.”
She says she plans to close Aug. 31, clean up in September, “and then maybe go on a little vacation.”
But before she leaves, Gabrielli says she’d like to leave something for her cusomters.
“Tell them I can give them the Caesar Salad dressing [recipe] if they want.”