Originally opened a few blocks away on 36th Ave, Ralph and Mamie Smaldone raised their growing family during tough times in the “wild, wild west” in the early 1930’s. To boost business in the café, the entrepreneurial couple bootlegged moonshine during prohibition while their three sons, who would grow into Denver’s charismatic mobsters, were in and out of jail for any number of minor offenses. In the late 1940’s, sales were down in the café, so Clyde vowed to help his parents upon his latest release from jail. In 1947, Clyde moved the café to the present day location at 3760 Tejon and renamed it, Gaetano’s, Italian nickname for Clyde.
Prosperity was restored to the family business and the notoriety of the three brothers grew in the press as they quickly became the debonair mobsters running a successful, yet undercover gambling ring upstairs from the booming restaurant. Access was granted to those who knew or were invited upstairs through a door in the men’s room. Now our restroom walls are graced with the faces of those known to run with the Smaldone’s and their extended crime family.
The rich history of the Smaldone family was captured by Dick Kreck in his book, Smaldone; The Untold Story of an American Crime Family. It chronicles the early years of bootlegging, Denver’s coming of age, and emergence into the classic cocktail era and the evolution into the modern, fast-paced city. As the Smaldone family phased out of the limelight and each brother was buried peacefully by family the story began to only be told by those few remaining who could tell the tales. Gaetano’s housed the memories of days gone by, but eventually the family saw it best to sell the restaurant and let the stories speak for themselves. The Breckenridge and Wynkoop family of restaurants bought the business with high regards for what came before them.
2012 brought about a lot of change as creative minds got together to breathe new life into the aging building. Black and white murals adorn the walls, embracing not just the Smaldone history, but also the other families and stories that built North Denver. We are hopeful our investment in the restaurant and extended community will keep this Denver landmark in business for many more years.