OBERLIN — It was more than a bit bittersweet that the lunchtime business was booming Friday at Presti’s of Oberlin.
“Even before noon, there was nowhere for anyone to sit,” manager Michele Zimmerman said of one of the area’s family owned restaurants, which has been in business for more than 75 years. “I said to someone if only it had always been like that we might not be doing this.”
Opened in 1937 by John and Bess Presti, the familiar red brick restaurant near the junction of West Lorain Street — also known as state Route 511— and Pyle-South Amherst Road will bring the curtain down for good tonight.
Owner Gene Presti, the longtime patriarch of the restaurant, was at home Friday when he talked by phone about the decision to close.
“It’s a combination of things,” Gene Presti said. “My age … I’ll be 80 in a month or so, and I’m tired. The tank is running out of gas.”
And then there’s the matter of his family as Presti pointed out more than once during his conversation with a reporter.
“The kids are doing all the work,’’ he said. “They’re here because I’m here.”
To say nothing of the tougher battle to remain profitable in the face of stiff competition from chain restaurants and changing taste by a younger generation.
“They’re constantly on TV, so we had trouble gaining new and younger customers,” Presti lamented as he talked about the family’s struggles to try and find a buyer for the restaurant. “It’s time for somebody with younger ideas to come in and keep it going, but we haven’t found that yet, so we decided it was time to close it up.”
The restaurant will remain on the market.
“We’re open to any reasonable offer,” Presti said.
Gene Presti began working at the restaurant in 1955, following his Sicilian-born parents, who met and married after emigrating to America and moving to Oberlin in the late 1930s.
He was joined at the restaurant by his brother John in 1957, continuing the business years after their father died in 1944.
After Gene retired in the early 1980s, daughter Michele came on board in the 1980s alongside her brother, Paul. The siblings essentially ran the business until a heart attack forced Paul to leave in 1994. Michele and her husband, Kurt, have kept the restaurant going since 2001.
Gene Presti appreciates the increasing rarity of such long-lived family businesses these days.
Among the things that hadn’t succumbed to changing times were the restaurant’s longtime dishes.
“We tried to stay current, but there’s only so much you can change,” Presti said.
Business stayed strong for decades, but Presti’s was unwilling to make wholesale changes to keep going.
“Younger people today are not interested in our type of restaurant,” Presti said. “They want more of a drop-in-and-grab meal like a wrap” or wings and other popular dishes.
“We couldn’t see ourselves changing to that sort of thing,” Presti said.
The restaurant’s level of business had been diminishing the last five years with a noticeable drop off the past two years, Presti said.
Although the family had been mulling its decision to close for some time, the final decision was made within the past two days, Zimmerman said.
Still, the family plans to give diners a good experience to mark the restaurant’s final weekend.
“It’s been crazy for reservations, with people calling to ask ‘Can I come out tonight and tomorrow night?’ ” Zimmerman said Friday. “People want to come in for that last spaghetti or French onion soup.”
Asked if the restaurant will do anything special to mark the end, Presti said no.
“We’ll close around midnight, and that will be it,” he said.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.