Death of chef leads to Tony's Italian Ristorante's sudden closure
Tony's Italian Ristorante holds a small anniversary celebration Sept. 2 every year to mark the day it opened its doors in 1982 at West Beck and South High streets.
But owner Tony Scartz said his Brewery District restaurant at 16 W. Beck St. has closed at least temporarily after the unexpected death of its longtime chef, Antonio Stanley.
Stanley, 53, of Columbus died in his sleep Aug. 26, Scartz said. He closed Tony's the same day and told The Columbus Dispatch that he doesn't know if his restaurant will ever be the same.
Scartz said he and Stanley had worked together for 34 years.
Stanley began working at the restaurant at age 14, Scartz said. The two, plus bartender Chuck Vyzral, have been a tight-knit group, he said, and losing Stanley was like losing a son.
"(We) served a lot of meals together," Scartz said. "He's certainly a big reason for my success."
Scartz said the restaurant would be closed for at least 30 days to grieve and emotionally regroup. Reopening the restaurant without Stanley would be a challenge to the longtime consistency and quality of the restaurant's food, he said.
Customers have commented on how they can return years later to the same quality of food because Stanley had been making it for so long, Scartz said. It would be difficult for another chef to replicate the taste of Stanley's food.
"He was probably the best saute guy in the city," Scartz said. "He could flavor food like nobody's business."
A few days before Stanley died, the restaurant had been at its busiest since the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic struck.
Scartz said he and Stanley were glad to see it; they laughed about forgetting how to be busy at a Monday morning meeting Aug. 24.
But by Aug. 26, the man Scartz described as a "rare breed, dedicated to his job, a very good father and a loyal friend" was gone.
Scartz said he cannot just put an ad in the paper to replace Stanley, but if he were to reopen the restaurant, he might need to modify the menu to play to the new chef's strengths.
After Stanley's death and the pandemic, Scartz said, he doesn't know if it's a sign that it's time for change.
"I'm not sure about the future. I just don't know if this is Mother Nature's way of saying, 'Hey, Tony, chill out,' " Scartz said.