Gino is famous for its zebra wallpaper. (Rj Mickelson/amNY)
By 8 a.m., the stove at Gino is covered with simmering sauce pots. A huge stockpot bubbles with savory ingredients. A prep cook rolls gnocchi on the counter. All this homespun detail is part of the problem for the 64-year-old East Side institution, whose owners cite rising food costs and a faltering economy for its potential demise.
Owners Michael Miele and Salvatore Doria have given themselves until the end of the month to find a buyer for the restaurant that has fed movie stars, crooners, politicians and generations of New Yorkers within its fabled zebra-wallpaper walls.
“The best hope is that someone will buy it and continue as it is,” Miele said.
He declined to discuss his lease, reported as recently renewed, only saying the landlord has been fair and there’s been no rent increase. He and Doria said it’s not the rent but their own insistence on resisting price increases in the wake of a 70-percent revenue drop during the past two years. Osso bucco still costs $23.95 here; at many places, it’s $30 or more.
Not only are fewer customers coming through the door, they are shaving off a course or ordering a glass of wine instead of a bottle. Through the recession, Miele has been reluctant to update or downsize the menu, or reduce portion size or staff, which includes seven cooks, four dishwashers, a pantry man, coatroom girl, two bartenders and 12 full-time waiters, some of whom have been here for as long as the zebras.
Miele has been at the restaurant for 42 years; Doria for 35. And both men said while they could take other measures that might save the business, it would also kill their reputation:They’d rather retire than change their ways — from employing the full staff of professional male waiters to keeping a manual ledger of house accounts. (Frank Sinatra, Rudy Giuliani and Bernie Madoff kept monthly tabs here; all paid on time.)
“Everything in the world has changed, but not this,” Doria said. “If it dies, it dies the way it was born.”