Luigi’s

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Profile appeared in our 30-1 Issue – April 2013

When Joe Lemucchi came to California from Lucca, Italy, in 1906, he had no idea that the business he was about to open would become a Bakersfield icon.

Joe originally opened his café on Sumner Street. Then he married Emilia Degiuli and, in 1910, the couple moved the business to its current location on 19th.

That original shop, which featured a grocery, a café, a bakery, and a gasoline station, actually had family quarters in the back where the couple’s four children were born. Louis, Lena, Harry, and Helen were literally born into the business.

Antonia-&-Monte-Valpredo-and-Children

Joe was a family man who loved the people of the community. As such, he began catering to the many Italian immigrant families that had come to Kern County in the early 1900s. Some of these families lived in the immediate neighborhood while others were living outside of town, farming and ranching, and they would have to drive into town to get their groceries.

Locals love the fact that you can enjoy a delicious Italian lunch and then walk a few feet into the deli and pick up pasta, sauces, wines, snacks, desserts, and more. That aspect of the Luigi’s legacy has been around since the beginning as the grocery store featured not only domestic goods, but also imported favorites.

Always wanting to support the community in any way he could, Joe also constructed several small apartments in the rear of the store and he rented them out to bachelor Italian immigrants.

The grape arbor, located in between those apartments and the store, became the place where groups of local Italians would meet and discuss the world around them. As a result, the café and grocery store were always exciting, energetic places—where shopping was sometimes less about purchasing weekly food supplies and more about engaging in a little social banter with fellow countrymen and women.

Emilia-and-Joe-Lemucchi

This was also the time that the now famous Luigi sandwich was born. Created by Joe and Emilia to serve the always hungry customers, the sandwich is always recommended to first-timers dining at Luigi’s. But the couple also had fresh stew, pasta sauce, and minestrone on the stove for those who sat down at the café to chat.

When Joe passed away, Emilia and her son, Louis (Luigi), continued the business. They added a bar next to the old store and the restaurant expanded into the building to the east, giving them more room to serve the customers.

The new expanded bar and restaurant were named “Luigi’s.” Luigi was an incessant collector of photos and sports memorabilia, covering the walls of his business with photos of local athletes spanning more than seven decades. Anyone who’s walked through the doors at Luigi’s recognizes that. Even so, the photos displayed on the walls actually make up only a small portion of Luigi’s entire collection.

Those pictures are a constant attraction for multiple generations of locals and visitors alike, who return frequently to view a favored photo with a friend, relative, or member of a new generation. After the death of Luigi in 1989, the store and restaurant has been operated by the third and fourth generations of the Lemucchi family: Antonia Valpredo and her children (Monica, Lanette, and Gino).

Today, Gino makes sure that customers are treated as they have been for over a century.

Old-Deli

“We want to give them the great experience from when they walk in to when they walk out,” he said. “Our goal is always to be consistent every meal, every hour, every day.”

As Gino explained it, Luigi’s has been a tradition for many generations of Bakersfieldians, so his family aims to make sure that when someone comes in for pasta once a week or more, that pasta tastes the same every time.

“I hear several times a day from people who are visiting from out of town. And they tell me that Luigi’s is always one of their stops, when they visit,” Gino added. “That’s something we take very seriously, because we want everyone who walks through our doors to feel like family.”

Whether guests are coming in to have lunch or requesting that Luigi’s cater a party, it’s a part of their day and their lives—so Gino doesn’t mess around.

“We’ve still got the name and the tradition that comes along with being around for generations of local diners and families. I would never want to be the one to let anyone down and hear people say, ‘Oh, as soon as he took over, things went south.’ That’s why I’m going to keep it consistent to keep people happy.”

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Consistency is just one element to the Luigi’s motto. “It’s about customer service and it always has been, all the way back to Joe. And it’s about team work. We are providing food and service to the people in this community—and Bakersfield is like a big family, so it seems to be a great relationship.”

For Gino, the biggest hurdle the family business has seen in its history has been growing too fast. “We outgrew our space so face that we can’t always take care of the people that we want to take care of all the time,” he added.

Obviously, with a 100-year history, there are a number of great stories. But Gino said that the ones he loves the most are the ones that come up around Christmastime, when Luigi’s is roughly three-times busier than normal.

“It’s the time of year when it can get overwhelming, but it’s also the time of year that we are able to be a part of so many families’ Christmas traditions…so many of the same families come to us year after year and tell us that we are a part of their holiday—that Luigi’s is a part of their family holiday. So, yes we get tired, and yes, we get stressed, but we also realize that we are a big part of people’s lives in Bakersfield…and we always have been. That’s a great feeling.”

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