DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Family, friends and longtime customers are remembering a legendary Dubuque business owner. Mario Bertolini, 73, owned Mario's Italian Restaurant in downtown Dubuque. He died Wednesday evening.
With recipes straight from Italy, Mario's Italian restaurant has been a mainstay in Dubuque for almost 40 years.
"Word of mouth I think. A lot of people know it's very authentic," said Debbie Gau, who’s worked at Mario’s for 30 years.
But perhaps, it was Mario himself that brought customers back again and again. Around his bar, customers became friends.
"I have the same thing every day. You come to an Italian restaurant and have a cheeseburger and fries. And Mario would always me about that," said longtime customer Michael Weber.
Mario’s son-in-law, Ryan Robinson said, "Great guy obviously. Tons of friends. Taught everyone to love everybody. "
"We was like a father figure to me. We talked all the time," said Gau.
Mario greeted every customer who walked in the door, in true Italian style.
"They come in and he'd shake their hands. And kiss their hands for the ladies," said Gau.
"He liked to do that. He'd always make sure they wouldn't get by him without kissing them on the hand," Weber.
Over the years, Mario's reputation spread, even on a national level.
Mario welcomed famous politicians and celebrities.
"Carolyn Kennedy was here. James Earl Jones was here," said Gau.
But ultimately, friends say, Mario became the real celebrity, by making his restaurant feel like home.
"It's strange not having him here," said Weber.
Services for Mario Bertolini are set for Sunday, June 18th from 1p.m. to 6 p.m. at Behr's funeral home. His funeral mass will be Monday at 10: 30 at Resurrection Catholic Church.