Denver's dwindling roster of classic red-sauce joints is about to take another hit. Dino's Italian Food, which has served housemade pasta, sausage, meatballs and other traditional fare since 1961, will close after 58 years in business at 10040 West Colfax Avenue.
The rambling Lakewood restaurant was founded by Dino Dipaolo, and his daughter, Judy Duren, still runs it. Even when we spoke to Duren a year ago, she told us "I think we're a dying breed. Independent restaurant owners are a dying breed. You can't afford to do it anymore."
But at the time, the owner also said she had no plans to retire anytime soon. "Do I have an exit strategy? I probably should, but, no, because I wouldn't know what else to do," she explained.
But now Dino's stands just a few weeks away from its last day, scheduled for September 30. Duren cites mounting repairs on the building and equipment as the leading factor in her decision. While the restaurant her father opened was barely big enough to host four families for dinner back in 1961, new wings and additions were built on over the years, turning Dino's into a sprawling 240-seater. She points to the roof as one of the major issues, but walk-in refrigerators and other kitchen equipment have also contributed to ongoing repair costs.
The family still owns the property, as well as the lot next door, where DiPaolo also ran a Mexican restaurant called Ramone's for many years. The lot now holds a McDonald's, and Dino's likely will be sold and razed to make way for new development, since the building is on its last legs and isn't considered an architectural treasure worth saving — unlike Tom's Diner just a few miles east on Colfax, where owner Tom Messina is also trying sell his property so he can retire.
Now that the word is out about the closing, Duren says the kitchen can barely keep up with food production (everything is made fresh and never frozen) because customers have been coming in waves. "I think we're feeding all of Kansas and Wyoming," she notes. "I think it's a great tribute to Dino, but it's been pretty crazy."
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Buildings grow old, and so do the people who run businesses inside them. And if the families of the owners don't want to take over, or if the mounting costs of maintenance and repairs means going into debt or turning out the lights, then we lose a little restaurant history with each closing. It's happened at Patsy's, Pagliacci's, Carbone's and Longo's Subway Tavern in northwest Denver, while others, including Angelo's Taverna and Gaetano's, have been saved by new owners but have also been modernized to appeal to a new generation of diners.
Looking around town, a few other Italian joints — the Saucy Noodle, Gennaro's, Lechuga's, Carl's Pizza, Romano's and Frank the Pizza King — are all still drawing customers after more than fifty years in business. And delis and bakeries such as Carmine Lonardo's, Vinnola's, Deli Italia, Valente's and Dolce Sicilia fill in with housemade sausage, baked goods, fat sandwiches and takeout specialties.
There's still time to get to Dino's, but you'll have to vie for a table with the many regulars flocking to the restaurant to honor the memory of Dino DiPaulo and fill up on plates of spaghetti and fresh-baked garlic bread. And for other classic Italian eateries still keeping tradition alive, here's our slideshow of Dino's and nine other restaurants that have been doing it for more than fifty years.