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Waiting on the legends

By: Joey Chisesi, Special to the News Messenger
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Several of Flavio Lombella’s former customers have been legends. Lombella, now a Sun City resident, was a maitre’d for 40 years. You may have guessed that Lombella was born in Italy, Como, Italy to be exact. He began his career as most restaurant and night club maitre’ds do by bussing tables. “From there, you learn to be a waiter,” Lombella said. Lumbella first bussed tables for King Faruk in 1953. “A lot of Italian people worked on the European continent. I worked my way back to Varese, Italy and to Lugano, Switzerland as a bus boy at the Palace Hotel,” Lombella said. “I did this all by myself. You bus tables until you’re 21 or so. I earned $50 a month in a Swiss casino and night club.” He worked there for two years. “The general manager of the casino was a lady. I guess she liked me. She sent me to school across the English Channel to the little island of Jersey to learn to speak English,” Lombella added. “I always seemed to find work in Italian restaurants. Somehow, the patrons of Italian restaurants were especially nice people,” Lombella reminisced. But Lombella left that scene and took up waiting tables for the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. In six months, he became the manager or maitre’d. He eventually found his way to San Francisco, where he worked at Ernie’s Restaurant, and then served as maitre’d at Bertolucci’s restaurant near San Bruno for 15 years. Lombella also was the maitre’d at the popular North Beach Café for two years. While there, Lombella seated such legends as John Wayne, Gregory Peck and Tony Bennett. Another movie-star couple followed Lumbella to their table, Robert Wagner and his wife, Natalie Wood. Lombella also remembers waiting on Frank Sinatra in London. “Mr. Sinatra always insisted on having an Italian waiter. His favorite food was a rack of lamb. Mr. Sinatra only ate one rib off the rack but one night he came in and ate all three ribs. He said, ‘Flavio that was the best lamb I’ve ever eaten.’” That was funny to Lombello because, he explained, the lamb was cooked and served the same as always. “One night at the North Beach Café, Mr. Sinatra walked in. I couldn’t believe it when he greeted me by my name. ‘How are you, Flavio?’ He remembered me after so many years had passed!” Who was the highest person of nobility he ever served? Why, two queens, the queen of England and the queen of Denmark. Lombella is as proud of that job milestone as he is proud of being a citizen of the United States for 31 years. At 62, he retired. Lombella and his wife, Christine, moved to Sun City in 2002.