IN GOOD TASTE:
The Venetian Restaurant in Point Loma is the epitome of a neighborhood restaurant that has been in operation for more than five decades. Chances are, if you're from the Peninsula, you know The Venetian and its owners, the Giacalone family. Self-described as "not a chic, fancy Italian restaurant, but neither a quick grab-and-go pizza shop," the Venetian comfortably sits somewhere in the middle.
The restaurant was started by Joe and Frank Giacalone's father, Vince, who was a fisherman. Vince's business career began in the 1960s, when desperate for income for his family, according to Joe, he decided to open a bakery in Point Loma. Unfortunately, that bakery proved unsuccessful. After it closed, a restaurant space opened on Canon Street and the family decided to buy it. That was in 1965.
The original Venetian sat on Canon Street until 1980. "From 1965 until 1980, things went really well," Joe said. So well, the family decided to open a second location. In 1973, as a teen, Joe remembers going with his father to look at a property for sale on Voltaire Street. After they bought that property, for about seven years, there were two Venetian locations.
Later, Joe and Frank opened a third restaurant in Old Town, which they sold in 2000. The remaining Venetian, the one we all know on Voltaire, has proven to be the family's legacy.
"This one's a beast," Joe said, regarding its location. "The reason is two-fold: Everyone seems to come out to eat at the exact same time, and we're a big part of the neighborhood." He pointed out that on a recent Friday night: "We did 160 pizzas in two hours. 360 people dined within the restaurant, yet Point Loma is a fairly quiet town, in my opinion, and we usually close around nine."
Located across the street from Point Loma High School, when school gets out, Joe said, "It's mayhem!" However, when fall rolls around and the sun starts to set earlier in the evening, the staff doesn't get as many of those eight o'clock dinner pushes.
Being a big part of the community is one of the things Joe and Frank pride themselves on, and perhaps why they've stayed in business for five decades. "I've seen little children come in here and eat, and now, I'm hosting their [wedding] rehearsal dinners in this restaurant," Joe laughed.
While most of The Venetian's patrons are locals, Joe said there are also many tourists on referrals from hotels where the concierges or bellmen know just the place, when guests ask for restaurant recommendations.
Not only does The Venetian provide excellent service and a family-like atmosphere, where Joe and Frank are frequently spotted in the dining room shaking hands with guests, the eatery also serves delicious food. A few of the recipes were passed on from their father, and The Venetian has, over the years, won awards from the California Restaurant Association, as well as a number of Gold Medallions, which are proudly displayed within the restaurant.
When The Venetian first opened, the food was basic — pizza and pasta with meat or marinara sauce. Now, the menu still features pizza and pasta, but also many varieties of home-made pasta, cannelloni, and scratch-made desserts, such as tiramisu. The dishes are, as Joe says, "old school Italian, but relevant."
"We don't shy away from who we are," he insisted, "and we're not trying to reinvent the wheel."
— The Venetian, 3663 Voltaire St. in Point Loma (San Diego), is open for lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Friday, and for dinner 4-9 p.m. seven days a week. Happy Hour is offered at the bar 4-6 p.m. daily. (619) 223-8197. venetian1965.com