Born and raised in North Beach, Dante was a legendary restauranteur and athlete who went on to coach baseball and touch the lives of many San Francisco kids. Like his father before him, Dante owned the New Pisa restaurant, a longtime North Beach fixture.
Transcript: Dante Benedetti (1919-2005)
The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Dante Benedetti on July 11 and 12, 1996. The interview took place at The New Pisa, a restaurant owned by Benedetti in San Francisco, California. The interview was conducted by Judith Robinson, an author, historian and member of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, a community organization. This interview is part of the Italian-Americans of North Beach series of interviews that were conducted from 1996 to 2004 by Judith Robinson with funding from U.C. Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. The interview was transcribed and edited by John Doxey in 2020
Format: Originally recorded on 2 audio tapes. Duration is 1 hour, 23 minutes.
Attribution: This interview transcript is property of the Telegraph Hill Dwellers. Quotes, reproductions and excerpts must be cited as follows: Oral history interview with Dante Benedetti, July 11 and 12, 1996. Telegraph Hill Dwellers Oral History Project.
Note: Dante Benedetti is the subject of two separate oral histories produced by the Telegraph Hill Dwellers. The transcript of a Dante Benedetti interview conducted by Audrey Tomaselli in 1999 can be found at https://www.thd.org/oral-history.
Summary: Dante Benedetti was born in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco in 1919. His family owned a restaurant, New Pisa, in North Beach, and Dante remained a restauranteur throughout his life. As a young man, Dante was a celebrated athlete who excelled at football, boxing and baseball. Baseball was his primary passion, and Dante ended up coaching the University of San Francisco’s baseball team for 16 years. With 373 collegiate wins, Dante is one of San Francisco’s all-time winningest baseball coaches, and USF’s current baseball diamond is named for him. After retiring from USF in 1980, Dante continued to work at New Pisa while managing and mentoring youth baseball teams. Dante's wife of 42 years, Florence, died in 1981. Dante died in 2005 at the age of 86. For more information about Dante’s life, see the obituary that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on November 18, 2005, written by Carl Nolte, at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Dante-Benedetti-beloved-restaurateur-and-USF-2560338.php
Dante was 77 years old when Judith Robinson interviewed him. In this interview, Dante describes how his father started the New Pisa restaurant in North Beach and the roles family members played in running this business; his schooling at St. Ignatius College Preparatory; his Coast Guard and Marine Corps experience during World War Two; his marriage to Florence Buriloff; his youth baseball coaching experience and his 19-year stint as baseball coach at the University of San Francisco; playing baseball with the DiMaggio brothers in North Beach; his daughters Claudia and Sandra; the New Pisa restaurant and its employees; his sponsorship of youth baseball teams; ways in which North Beach has changed since his youth; his father’s home wine-making; and his Catholic Youth Organization boxing career.
John Doxey and Judith Robinson have reviewed the transcript and have made corrections and emendations. The reader should keep in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.
JUDITH: This should be Dante Benedetti, recorded in his restaurant the New Pisa on Green Street in San Francisco by Judith Robinson on July 11th, 1996. As I explained, what we’re trying to do is capture some of the history of North Beach in San Francisco and the Italian-American community. And you’re a very obvious person to talk to, with your long history in the city and also in the restaurant business. And particularly your activities with the sporting things you’ve supported. So I thought we could talk a little about your life and your work in the restaurant and the sporting things.
JUDITH: Maybe we could start with when you were born and what your full name is.
DANTE: My name is Dante Benedetti.
JUDITH: And I want to be sure I’m spelling Benedetti correctly.
JUDITH: Alright. And do you want to say when your birthday is?
DANTE: My birthday is May 16, 1919.
JUDITH: Ah-ha. Now were you born here in the city?
DANTE: I lived here in the city. But born in Floriston. My mother was visiting an uncle, her brother. Who was the manager in a paper mill there.
JUDITH: In where?
DANTE: Yeah. I came along unexpectedly.
JUDITH: A little early, huh? [laughter] And what was your father’s full name, and where was he born?
DANTE: My father’s name was Gino Benedetti. Born in Torre del Lago. Italy. Provincia Lucca.
JUDITH: Torre de Lago?
DANTE: Torre del Lago. T-O-R-R-E D-E-L L-A-G-O.
JUDITH: Tower of the Lake.
[Transcriber’s note: Audiotape failed here. Interview was restarted on July 12, 1996.]
JUDITH: Your hometown. I read it was where Puccini was born. Is that what you said?
DANTE: Yeah, Puccini the opera singer.
JUDITH: Torre del Lago.
DANTE: In fact, it’s called Torre del Lago Puccini.
JUDITH: Oh, it is?
DANTE: Yeah, that’s what they call it now. And he has a villa. He has a villa right on the lago, right on the lake there.
JUDITH: So that’s up in the lake country. Northern Italy, right?
DANTE: Northern Italy. Yeah. Provincia Lucca. Province of Lucca.
JUDITH: Did you go back and visit your family?
DANTE: Yeah, I went back on a baseball thing, you know. I was involved in baseball. And I ran baseball clinics over there. So it gave me an opportunity. My home base was Rome. But then I went to Belate [Transcriber’s note: this name is unclear], Milano. Just to give baseball clinics. And it gave me an opportunity to go visit all my relatives in Torre del Lago.
JUDITH: Wow. About what year was that?
JUDITH: So you still have cousins and…?
DANTE: Yeah. I have cousins and uncles, aunts.
JUDITH: Now when did you … you said your father came to America in 1914, and he had only a 4th grade education. But he ended up in Mendocino County?
DANTE: Willits. Willits, Mendocino. He went up and working in the trees, cut the trees. Northwestern. There was a lumber mill. He went to work up there. And then he …
JUDITH: Then he got the letter from the … he and his brother…
DANTE: My uncle. He owned a hotel in Willits. And my father went there from Northwestern … and he got the letter from this fellow Belluomini [Transcriber’s note: this name is unclear in the recording] just before that. He got the letter from Belluomini that these two ladies wanted to come from Italy. Emilia and Genesea.
JUDITH: How do you spell Genesea?
JUDITH: So tell us again about that.
DANTE: So they went back to New York to meet these two ladies, ‘cause they figured it was time to raise a family, get married. Because that’s what they did in the old days, you know. And there was no engagements, no love affairs. Just a plan to raise a family. And so they went to New York. And when they met the women coming off the ship, Belluomini says “I said for Emilia, but she’s too thin. I like a heavy woman.” And so my father says “well, you take Genesea and I’ll take Emilia.” You know. And that’s how they got married.
JUDITH: And as you said it worked out fine … they were married for 59 years?
DANTE: Yeah. Approximately 69 years.
JUDITH: 59 or 69?
DANTE: 64 years, I think. To be precise.
JUDITH: When did your father pass away?
DANTE: My father died in 1951.
JUDITH: And how old would he have been?
DANTE: At that time he was about … oh, in his 60s. I don’t know his exact age, but…
JUDITH: So when he came to America in 1914 he was very young.
DANTE: Just a kid. Just a kid.
JUDITH: And then your father came down here and went into business in a saloon.
DANTE: He went into business in a bar with my uncle. He was my mother’s brother. He owned the Pisa. And the Pisa is where the Rossi Market is now. 623 Vallejo. And so he bought in with my uncle. And then Rossi bought three buildings to build the first supermarket. And my father had to move. And my uncle bought a place, Columbus Café, down near the Tosca Café in those days. And my father didn’t want to go in there with him. It was too small, there was not enough for two. So my father moved to 1268 Grant Avenue. It was a hat store that had closed down. So he fixed it up and made it into the New Pisa Restaurant there.
JUDITH: And that’s the one on the corner of Vallejo?
DANTE: Yeah, that’s the one on the corner of Vallejo and Grant Avenue. It’s the Basta Pasta now.
JUDITH: You told that great story about your dad and your mom. How your mom got a little heavy. But she’d come in from the kitchen and talk to your dad, and he’d had a few glasses of wine…
DANTE: Well, my father was a pretty good drinker, you know. He was a heavy drinker. And my mother’d come from the kitchen and says to my father, says in Italian, “Gino, you’re drinking too much, you’re going to get sick.” And he says “Emelia, you belong in the kitchen. Go back in there and do your work.”
DANTE: She just turned around and went back there and did her work. And he just kept on doing what he was doing.
JUDITH: But as you pointed out she ran the operation.
DANTE: Oh, she was the business lady, you know. She was the boss. That’s the way the Italian family worked, you know. But she was really the business … she’s the one who took care of hiring. My father couldn’t fire anybody. But she hired and she fired, you know.
JUDITH: When did he get that place at the corner of Grant and Vallejo, about?
DANTE: I’d say about 1929.
JUDITH: So that was when you were about 10 years old then because you were born May 16, 1919. Now how many were in your family?
DANTE: Four. My sister Germana. G-E-R-M-A-N-A. Myself. My sister Olympia. And my brother Donald. He was … I guess he’s 14 years younger than me. And he’s 11 years younger than my second sister Olympia.
DANTE: And my sister Germana is the oldest. And then Donald came along.
JUDITH: Well, you were talking about how your two sisters worked in the restaurant, too. So it was a real family business?
DANTE: It was a family business.
JUDITH: Your mom and your dad and …
DANTE: My mom and dad. My mom in the kitchen. My dad at the bar. My two sisters waiting on tables.
JUDITH: And Donald was too little at that time?
DANTE: Donald wasn’t even born then.
JUDITH: Did you all live in North Beach?
DANTE: We lived right here. In this alley. 27 Jasper Alley.
JUDITH: So you grew up right here?
JUDITH: And what about school and some of your activities as a youth? What things stand out?
DANTE: I went to Garfield Grammar School.
JUDITH: On Filbert?
DANTE: Yeah. And I was a good student. And I went to Francisco Junior High School … and then I went to Galileo. I had a little temper problem in those days. And I didn’t direct it in the right direction. And I had to transfer from Galileo to Commerce. I went to Commerce, and I got in a similar problem there with my temper. And I was boxing CYO for a fellow named George Malley. M-A-L-L-E-Y. That was a teacher at St. Ignatius High School and also the football coach. And so he took me out to St. Ignatius, and Father King said “we can’t take this young fellow in here. He’s been ejected from two schools.” And he says “call Mr. White,” who was the principal at Commerce High School. “Says he’s got a good word for him.” So he called Mr. White, and Mr. White says, “the young man is very good academically.” And he says, “by the way, you have a few Irish out there.” He says, “a few?” He says, “we’re 60, 70 percent Irish family-oriented at St. Ignatius High School.” He says, “well, you’ve got a little Italian here with an Irish temper. And I think you Jesuits know how to treat it, to direct it in the right direction.” And that’s exactly what they did.
DANTE: They took me in. And one of the fathers that they put in charge, because I was way behind in studies because St. Ignatius was a college prep school, you know. And I had to take Latin, and I had to take a year of Greek, and had to take algebra and geometry all at the same time. But there was a father up there, Sorenson [transcriber’s note: this name is unclear in this recording] I think his name was. I think it was Sorenson. There was a priest there that spent two and half hours every day bringing me up to the rest of the class.
DANTE: He was a friend of George Malley’s, and he says to George Malley and he says to me, “before we go downstairs, I understand that you walk around with a chip on your shoulder.” And he says, “we’ll go downstairs, I’ll take my collar off and we’ll get that chip off and then we can work with you, and I think it will be more effective.” And I says, “no, father, I don’t want to get physical. I just want to catch up to the rest of the class. I appreciate the time you’re putting in.” And we got to be pretty good friends while we were down there, and he was tutoring me in all these subjects. And I found out he was light heavyweight champ of the Army in 1918. If I would’ve went downstairs … [laughter] I kind of lucked out on that one.”
JUDITH: Wow, that’s amazing. What does CYO mean?
DANTE: Catholic Youth Organization.
JUDITH: Oh, thank you. So you were boxing yourself then?
DANTE: Yeah, I boxed later on. Not at that particular time. But later on I boxed and played football. I played football at St. Ignatius for George Malley, and I boxed CYO for George Malley. He was also the coach at the Catholic Youth Organization.
JUDITH: So you had an early interest in sports?
DANTE: Oh, yeah. It was my life saver.
JUDITH: And so you graduated?
DANTE: I didn’t graduate from St. Ignatius. Because you needed two years of Latin, and a year of Greek in order to get a diploma from St. Ignatius. That was in 1936. But I had enough units and credits to go to the University of San Francisco … so in 1986, the 50th anniversary of getting out of St. Ignatius, I got a Golden Jubilee diploma from St. Ignatius [laughter]. Fifty years later, in 1986.
JUDITH: Oh, that’s wonderful. Well-deserved. Isn’t that funny? You’re like all the presidents who get their honorary degrees. And so you graduated from USF then?
DANTE: Graduated from USF, 1941.
JUDITH: What was your degree?
DANTE: Education. I majored in Education.
JUDITH: And that was right at the beginning of the war then. Did you…
DANTE: Yeah, I went right into the service.
JUDITH: And in what branch of the service?
DANTE: I went in the Marine Corps … and I got discharged from the Marine Corps November the first, got married November the third. [laughter] And the war broke out December the seventh. And I went down to the Whitcomb Hotel, and I says to the old sergeant that was there, an old recruiter who was a career man in the Marine Corps, I says to him, “I got my discharge here.” I says, “I just got married. If you give me four or six weeks so I can honeymoon at home and get acquainted with my wife,” I says, “I’ll sign into the Marine Corps right now.” And he says, “you call yourself” … and they used that f-word all the time, you know … so he says, “you call yourself an f’ing Marine?” I says, “no, I’m not an f’ing Marine now. I’m an f’ing citizen. You’re the f’ing Marine.” He says, “well, we don’t make any deals here.” Well, then,” I says, “you can go f yourself,” and I took a hike.
I went out. And I met a friend of mine in front of the Orpheum Theatre named Tom Rice. And he says “Bene,” he says, “I thought you were in the Marine Corps.” And I told him the same story I’m telling you. He says, “what happened?” I says, “I just came out of there.” I says, “I’m looking for a soft spot right now because I just got married.” He says, “well, why don’t you come down and play football for the Coast Guard? You’ll be here at least one season.” And that’s what I did. I joined the Coast Guard. [laughter]
JUDITH: For heaven sakes. Well, now you were discharged. Did you spend a year there and then in 1942 you were discharged?
DANTE: I was discharged in 1941.
JUDITH: The same year you graduated? You said you graduated from USF in ‘41.
DANTE: ’40, yeah. A year later.
JUDITH: So you spent a year in the Marines, and then you were discharged and then you got married? And then you played football and joined the Coast Guard?
DANTE: Joined the Coast Guard, played football.
JUDITH: So you were in the Coast Guard up and down the coast during the war?
DANTE: Yeah, well you know a lot of people misinterpret the word Coast Guard because they think it’s a coast thing, a land thing. But you could of got any kind of service you wanted. You know, they had landing barges. They had … during the wartime they become part of the Navy. And that’s what happened. And then I shipped out … I don’t remember what date I shipped out. But I shipped out in ‘43 or ’44.
JUDITH: With the Merchant Marine or with the Coast Guard?
DANTE: No, aboard the Coast Guard.
JUDITH: OK. Well, who was your wife? Tell me who your wife was.
DANTE: My wife was Florence.
JUDITH: Right. Was she Italian?
DANTE: No, she was Russian.
DANTE: And my mother didn’t speak to me for seven years, because I married a Russian. [laughter]
JUDITH: Very typical.
DANTE: In between when I was going to get discharged from the Marine Corps, you know … I got discharged in New York. And I came to Reno. I got off in Reno and called my wife, who I was dating before World War Two, and says, “come and meet me in Reno and we’ll go to Carson City to get married.” Because I had too many relatives in Reno. Which they would call up my mother and tell her, you know. [laughter] And so that’s what we did. We did that. We went and got married in Carson City.
JUDITH: Wow! What was her last name?
DANTE: Buriloff. B-U-R-I-L-O-F-F.
JUDITH: Was she first generation or an immigrant?
DANTE: No, she was first generation here. She was born in Honolulu.
JUDITH: Really? But her parents were immigrants?
Dante: They were from, I think, Vladivostok.
JUDITH: Vladivostok. Wow. And you had a family of your own?
DANTE: Yeah, you mean my mother and father?
JUDITH: Your children…
DANTE: Yeah, I had two daughters. We had two sons, but they died at birth.
JUDITH: Oh … well, now after the war then you must have come into the business?
DANTE: I came into the business when … I was working in the business. And I was coaching and teaching. And my father got sick and died. And then it was up to me to carry the family business on ‘cause I was the oldest. But my sister Germana she’s the one that was the best business head in the family, you know. She had the most experience. So she really ran the place for me. And I stayed with coaching most of the time. And I used to come in the morning and open up, and nights to close down. But she’s the one who really ran the place.
JUDITH: Where were you coaching, Dante, and what? Football?
DANTE: I was coaching in baseball.
JUDITH: At schools? High schools?
DANTE: Yeah, high school. I coached at St. Ignatius, and I coached at USF. One year at St. Ignatius and …
JUDITH: Now, how did you meet Joe DiMaggio? Was he a …?
DANTE: We grew up together, Joe DiMaggio and I. And Joe was always a better ballplayer, you know. He got signed at 17 years of age by the New York Yankees, you know. But I played with his brother Dominic. But Joe was brought up in Valparaiso Alley, about two blocks from here. So we used to go to the same playground all the time. But he was always playing ahead of me, you know. He was a great ballplayer. For number one he was a natural. And I played on a lot of teams with his brother Dominic which was younger. And then Joe got signed around 17 years of age from the New York Yankees.
And a lot of people don’t know this, but he was the first one to introduce to the Italian family that you could make money in sports. They thought it was just a hobby, you know, and a waste of time. Because a lot of the Italians, especially a lot of the fishermen, used to make their sons go down and sew the nets, you know, and wouldn’t even allow ‘em to participate in school sports. And when Joe DiMaggio bought a home for his folks on North Point Street when he got the first bonus, the fishermen started turning around and buying gloves for their kids instead of making ‘em go down and sew the nets. A lot of people don’t know that he introduced ‘em that you could make money. And the Italian family was tough in those days, and they thought it was just a recreation time by participating in sports, you know.
JUDITH: That’s wonderful. Well, that brings to mind a question: Did you feel there was a regionalization in North Beach of Italians by heritage? The Sicilianos were on the waterfront, the Calabreses were on Kearny Street. Did you sense…?
DANTE: No, it was pretty well mixed up … I think that what happened is that the Calabreses and the Sicilians from southern Italy and the northern Italians they went into different kind of businesses. I mean the Sicilians had all the fish boats down there, you know …
JUDITH: Is Joe of Sicilian extraction?
DANTE: He’s Sicilian, yeah.
JUDITH: Because his family were fishermen, were they not?
JUDITH: And the northern Italians went into…
DANTE: The restaurant business and...
JUDITH: And the Genoese went into banking.
DANTE: You’re right, you’re right. [laughter] … and the Toscani, you know, went into delicatessens. Italian food.
JUDITH: Is that still the heritage then? Like Florence Ravioli and Molinari, are they Toscanis?
DANTE: No, I don’t think so. I know Panelli is, across the street … They speak beautiful at Molinari. The mother is still there, and I think they’re still Toscani. I’m not sure. But the mother is still there, she still makes the raviolis. And then Florence I don’t know what dialect they are. But they speak Toscano because Toscano is the mother language of the schools in Italy.
JUDITH: Ah-ha. Now did you grow up speaking Italian by the way?
DANTE: I had to speak Italian or I wouldn’t get fed … my father quoted a proverb to me, you know, and I never forgot it. I still use it: “If you’re proud of where you come from, you’ll always know where you’re going. And you’ll take pride in everything you do. Speak Italian to me or I will not answer you and I won’t feed you.” That’s what made me learn it. “I won’t feed you.” You know, I wanted to eat.
JUDITH: That’s wonderful.
DANTE: In Italian “So [Transcriber’s note: this Italian phrase is unclear] mangiare.” That’s the proverb. [laughter] And I grew up with that, and I have him to thank that I speak Italian.
JUDITH: That’s wonderful. So your parents spoke Italian at home?
DANTE: All the time, all the time.
JUDITH: But you all learned English in school? So you’re totally bilingual?
DANTE: Yeah, we learned English at school, and playing at playgrounds, you know.
JUDITH: Did you guys speak Italian on the playgrounds?
DANTE: No, not really.
JUDITH: And the playground is the Telegraph…
DANTE: North Beach Playground.
JUDITH: Right. Is it still pretty much the same?
DANTE: No, I don’t think so. I think there’s a lot of Chinese in there now. That’s why a lot of the Italians left North Beach. Because they got a Chinese neighbor, you know. The Italians sold out and moved and got a Chinese neighbor and there was no communication. And so then they sold too, and they’d move to the Marina District, to Marin County or down the Peninsula. And they started to move out.
JUDITH: Were there a lot of Italian cultural activities when you were growing up? Fairs, festivals? Do you remember things like that?
DANTE: There was a lot of them. They used to be held every year. There was one or two at … Washington Square Park. They used to have one at Fugazi Hall up there. And all Italian festivals, you know.
JUDITH: Did your life center around the church as well?
DANTE: Yeah. Because we were baptized as Catholics. And you had to get your first communion, confirmation, you know, your baptism all from St. Peter and Paul, which was an Italian church there … and there was a cycle, you know. Like in our family it wasn’t really a heavy thing, but you had to do it. There’s no question about it. But our family wasn’t really heavy religiously that you had to go to church every day or something like that. But you had to go to mass on Sundays … all your fundamental responsibilities to be a Catholic when you were young you had to follow it. Until you got out of the house, yeah.
JUDITH: [laughter] Were you in the Salesian Boys’ Club activities?
DANTE: There was two boys’ clubs then. There was the Salesian Boys’ Club and there was the San Francisco Boys Club. The Salesian Boys’ Club was the one that … Father Trincheri organized it. And the San Francisco Boys Club was sponsored by the community chest. And that’s the one I belonged to. It was a rival. We were rivals in sports and drama and, you know, all the plays and dancing. You know, we used to give a lot of dances for the kids and teach you how to dance, you know, when you were just a kid.
[Transcriber’s note: according to MissionNewsWire.org, the Salesian Boys’ Club was established in San Francisco in 1918 by Father Oreste Trincheri to serve at-risk boys and those living in poverty in the North Beach area. In 1994, after serving only boys for almost 80 years, the club opted to include girls and expand its programs accordingly.]
JUDITH: Well, how did you become so active, as I understand you did, with the Little League in San Francisco? And what other sport things have you been …
DANTE: I started mostly with little kids because I liked baseball. And that was after World War Two. I came home … and the restaurant always gave me a good income. So I decided to organize and start a Little League team and sponsor a senior team. But I didn’t coach the senior team at the time. I had a fellow by the name of Marino Pieretti … P-I-E-R-E-T-T-I … that was a major league ballplayer and retired. And he coached the big team for me, and I coached the kids, which I enjoyed very much.
[Transcriber’s note: according to Wikipedia, Marino Paul Pieretti (1920 – 1981) was born in Lucca, Italy and grew up in North Beach. He was a right-handed pitcher who appeared in 194 Major League baseball games from 1945 through 1950 for the Washington Senators, Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians.]
When I first started, I had little a bit of interference by the parents. But I straightened that out by having a meeting with the parents and explaining to them that this was their children’s recreation and not theirs. And that was very difficult for some of the parents at the time, which criticized the little guys. But they couldn’t remember how they played when they were little. They were criticizing on probably when they left off. So I had to draw a difference and explaining to them. And they cooperated fairly well. I never got any interference. In fact, if I did and it continued, I would ask them to pull their kids off the team … But just a sprinkling of a problem.
JUDITH: Where did you all play? At North Beach Playground?
DANTE: We played on all … they used to have here a horses’ lot. That was where all the milk wagons used to park. The Marin Dell I think it was. I’m not sure the name, but I think it was the Marin Dell Milk. And they had all … down where the, you know, where all those homes are now on Bay Street there? All the city homes. They built all those homes…
JUDITH: Oh, the projects we call them.
DANTE: There you go. That’s the word I was looking for.
JUDITH: That’s where the milk wagons were?
DANTE: That’s where the milk wagons was, and the Marin Dell. And then when they used to go out, we used to sweep up all the manure of the horses and make our bases with it. And put a sack over it and start and choose up a side and play baseball there.
JUDITH: That’s wonderful.
DANTE: Then we graduated out to where they called Army Field. Where all those army homes are opposite Funston Field out there. There’s now all officers’ homes … but when we started playing there … when you were the little guys you played on Army Field. It was all sand. All sand. And then the Army came in and started to build and we had to go and we played at Funston Field, now called Moscone Field.
JUDITH: Is that in the Presidio?
DANTE: No, it’s on…
JUDITH: Well, I can look that up … so was this with your adult team or your Little Leaguers?
DANTE: No, the Little Leaguers. The little guys … And then I started coaching an American legion team for the [Transcriber’s note: this name is unclear in this recording] Post. And then USF was going to drop their baseball program at the university where I went to because they couldn’t afford a coach. So I volunteered. And I was up there for 19 years at a dollar a year.
JUDITH: Well, no wonder they gave you a golden jubilee award.
DANTE: Well, they named the field after me. [laughter]
JUDITH: Oh, Dante, that’s wonderful.
DANTE: Yeah, they got a baseball field up there. If they would’ve paid me I would’ve spent the money. [laughter] Here I got Dante Benedetti Baseball Field. Now they’re gonna close it in and put a … grandstand, you know, and everything else on it. But when I had it … the program survived because it was the type of program that it was. It didn’t have many scholarships and things. It just had kids that wanted to play baseball.
JUDITH: That’s wonderful. And then you also sponsored a team, an adult team. What would that’ve been called? The New Pisa?
DANTE: Yeah, the New Pisa. I had the New Pisa Reds and the New Pisa Blues. Gino Benedetti, that’s my father’s name. Yeah.
JUDITH: And how long did that go on?
DANTE: Oh, that went on ‘til … heck … the New Pisa team went on ‘til about five, six years ago.
JUDITH: Oh, really?
JUDITH: So they’re not …
DANTE: They’re not playing now. No.
JUDITH: ‘til about 1990, huh?
DANTE: Until about 1989.
JUDITH: Wow, that’s amazing … and tell me some of the other city things that you were involved in, then. Was it mostly with these teams and opportunities for youngsters?
DANTE: Most of the teams, you know. And individually why I boxed in … and then I boxed in college. I boxed in CYO mostly, Catholic Youth Organization. And then college. And then when I went to college you couldn’t box outside, you could only box in college competition. And I played football for University of San Francisco, and I played baseball for University of San Francisco.
JUDITH: Wow … you had two daughters, but they weren’t involved in sports, right?
DANTE: No, not really. But both in teaching.
JUDITH: Ah-ha. Both of them became teachers?
DANTE: Yeah. And one of ‘em now is the attorney for the Childcare Center of San Francisco, which is a private organization where parents work and put their kids that are under six years of age in this school that’s opposite Mission Dolores down there. That’s Sandra. That’s Sandy, the youngest one.
JUDITH: She’s an attorney now?
DANTE: Yeah. And the oldest one is a school teacher. And she’s up in Antioch. [Transcriber’s note: Dante’s older daughter’s name is Claudia.]
JUDITH: Well, you must be proud of them. Gosh, you did a good job.
DANTE: Oh, Christ ... you know, daughters are ... you know, the old Italian family always was … there the main thing was to carry the family name on. My father used to say you’re not a real Benedetti ‘til you have a son, you know. Well, we had two that died at birth. But then if you had sons, they’d never call you. And I have two daughters, and one calls me in the morning, one calls me at night. Every day of the year. And you don’t get that kind of relationship with a boy, you know. He gets married, and gets involved in his wife’s family and…
JUDITH: So you feel your daughters are carrying the name on just fine?
JUDITH: Good for you.
DANTE: They’re two beautiful daughters. They call me. One calls me every single morning, the other one calls me every night.
JUDITH: That’s great … well, tell me a few stories about the old New Pisa, too … we were talking a little bit about the lovely women who worked for you. What were their names again, the waitresses I remember at the place?
DANTE: Well, we had Anna Maria.
DANTE: We had Anita.
DANTE: My sister Gerry.
JUDITH: Gerry. That’s right. I can see them just as clearly …
DANTE: Olympia. My sister Olympia. Lola. She’s still working here. [laughter]
JUDITH: Oh, isn’t that wonderful.
DANTE: She’s 74, I think. She worked [here] since she was 12 years old. She was a bus girl.
JUDITH: Isn’t that wonderful. Such loyalty, huh!
DANTE: Well, you know, there’s human interest involved with Lola, too. She had braces on both legs. She had infantile paralysis when she was about three years old. And … there was a cab driver there. And he says, “what’s that little girl wearing braces for?” And this cab driver drove kids to the Sunshine School for treatment at the children’s hospital … and I said, “she’s our cousin.” He says, “she shouldn’t be wearing braces because” ... I says, “she has infantile paralysis.” But he says, “they don’t give braces anymore, they give ‘em therapy. Can she establish an address here?” So she moved in with our family. And he took her to the hospital, and they performed three or four operations on her, and she took away the braces. And she’s perfectly normal now, except that one leg is smaller than the other. That’s why she wears slacks all the time. But she works harder than anybody else, and she’s 74 years old. But this cab driver was responsible. I could ask Lola what his name was …
JUDITH: Isn’t that something … well, we owe him a lot anyway. But she moved in with your family? She’s a cousin of yours?
JUDITH: Wow. Well, how many of you were living in Jasper Alley?
DANTE: Well, we moved to 1726 Stockton by that time. And there was … five with Lola. Because my brother came along later on.
JUDITH: I think of that New Pisa with such fondness. Because of the picturesqueness of the way you came in those swinging doors, and the little bar to the right. And then you had the booths with the curtains on the left, the tables in the middle. Had that place been there for a long time before you bought it?
DANTE: No, it was a hat store … and they closed down just at the proper time for my father to move from 623 Vallejo, where Rossi Market is, to that. And my father had it remodelled all inside for the New Pisa. Fixed the kitchen, and he did it all. It belonged to the Cazassa [Transcriber’s note: this name is unclear] family. Fred Cazassa.
JUDITH: And how long was it there then? From what years to what years about? When did you get to this place?
DANTE: I got to this place in, I think, ’77.
JUDITH: It happened when I was in Washington I know. I was quite …
DANTE: Yeah, I think July ’77. I’m not sure.
JUDITH: So you’d been at the old place since…
DANTE: Well, my father … died in ’51. That’s when I took over. But he was already there for a long time. I don’t know the year that he moved there from 623 Vallejo … it was maybe around 1929 that he moved there.
JUDITH: Well, it was a very popular place with all kinds of notables. We were talking yesterday a little bit about … what was the name of the gal that did the Chronicle Question Man?
DANTE: Oh, Novella.
JUDITH: Novella, right. She used to come in there to do her daily Question Man. [laughter] She’d get her answers at the New Pisa bar.
JUDITH: And Herb Caen used to go there didn’t he?
DANTE: Yeah. He came in there. He got a little upset because I wouldn’t pick up his tab one day, and he didn’t write us up too much anymore. [laughter] You know, he was one of those guys that … great columnist, don’t misunderstand me. He was one of the best in the United States, and actually worldwide, you know. But …
JUDITH: Well, he liked that perk.
DANTE: Yeah, he didn’t like how we treated him. [laughter]
JUDITH: Uh huh. Well, you don’t have any regrets about being in this business all these years do you?
DANTE: Absolutely not. I think it’s the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. Because it not only gave me an opportunity to improve my character. Along recognizing a lot of different characters that you meet in this business. And I improved my character by that. Which is one of the proudest things I have. Because I was a temperamental guy, you know. Short-tempered, got in a lot of problems. In fact, my father threw me out of the New Pisa more times than he threw a customer. And of course, it meant a lot to me because you used to get these little dime tips, you know, and 25 cents. And in those days it was a lot of money, you know. And he used to kick me out, and then I used to beg to get back, you know.
JUDITH: Because you were working as a waiter or a bus boy?
DANTE: I was working as a waiter and a bus boy … you know, like one incident. One night some guy called him a … my father was a such a great guy, you’ve got to understand the fact … and this guy called my father an SB Dago because he wouldn’t serve him, he had too much to drink. And I’m waiting on tables and I heard him call my father that, so I went and spun the guy around and belted him, you know. And you know who got kicked out, don’t you?
JUDITH: Dante! [laughter]
DANTE: I did. And he says, “if there’s one stupid you had to join him? Get the hell outta here!” Boom! And he booted me in the fanny. Then I had to beg … I get tears in my eyes when I talk about it, but … I had to beg my way back in. To get those little dimes and two bits. Because we never got any allowance. There was no allowance in the Benedetti family. If you wanted something you had to ask for it. And then you’d have to wait maybe an hour or two hours before you got it. You know, ten cents or 25 cents or whatever it was. [laughter]
JUDITH: How old would you have been at that time?
DANTE: I was about 16 or 17, I guess. At that time, when that happened … I was still in high school.
JUDITH: That’s a wonderful story … you’ve also received quite a few other awards, I think. Maybe you could tell me …
DANTE: Oh, I got so many awards, you know. All in something that I really liked to do. And I got a lot of individual awards, and I got awards in the game of baseball. you know. Like all these trophies here, all won by the teams that I sponsored. They won them, I didn’t. I sponsored the teams. I made it possible for them because I sponsored ‘em and I coached ‘em, you know. And that’s the greatest part of my life, you know. Just …
JUDITH: There must be 50 of them in here, Dante. Or more? … and what is this magnificent one over here?
[Transcriber’s note: at this point, Judith and Dante are looking at trophies, photographs and other memorabilia inside the New Pisa restaurant.]
DANTE: That’s another interesting story…
JUDITH: That’s a huge…
DANTE: We played in a league. See the one to your left there? That’s the original trophy for this one here.
JUDITH: [Reading the plaque on a trophy] “Recreation and Parks San Francisco. Spring Softball League. Slow Pitch Softball, Class B Champions, Men’s.”
DANTE: Maybe that’s not the trophy. But there is a trophy here, a small trophy that …
JUDITH: … This says, “sponsored by the San Francisco Peninsula League, 1950 Champs, New Pisa.”
DANTE: We won the championship, and they gave us a small trophy. But there was $2,500 for the sponsor and $2,500 for the kids that played. And I took the $2,500, and I bought jackets and gave a banquet for them. And I gave it at La Felce, which was a different name then. Paul’s Corner. I gave it at Paul’s Corner, down here. And I gave ‘em jackets and the banquet. And they in turn took the money that they won and bought me this big trophy … because there’s another little trophy here that’s the one that the league awarded you. But they knew I was trophy happy, and they turned around and bought that one for me.
JUDITH: Oh, Dante. That’s wonderful … I notice most of the names of the players are Italian. Was that part of the pride of these teams, that they were mostly Italian?
DANTE: All from this area, yeah. Most of them were from this area. And then the coach was real Italian. He was born in Italy. Marino Pieretti. He played professional baseball.
JUDITH: Was there a rivalry between the Irish and the Italians in your time?
DANTE: Not so much in North Beach. There was if you went citywide, you know. But in North Beach the Irish were the ones that took the hill. Lived up on the hill over on Lombard Street there, all up in that area. The Irish ran Flanagan’s and … and the Italians were down here. The only rivalry that was in North Beach that I could see was between the Chinese when they started to move in … but it was still … being proud of where you came from. You were raised that way, you know. And the Irish were raised that way, and so were the Italians.
JUDITH: Right. And there’s been a lot of intermarriage with Italians and Irish.
DANTE: Oh, a lot of ‘em. Plenty of them.
JUDITH: I know quite a few couples that are of Italian-Irish descent … so then you’ve got a lot of awards for … but mostly related to your sponsorship of these wonderful youth teams?
DANTE: Sponsors. Not individual awards.
JUDITH: Oh, that’s wonderful, Dante.
DANTE: And like I say, you know, I went up to the University of San Francisco. And in that program up there, there was a lot accomplished. Because I got a lot of kids to go to school that, you know, could have never gone to school really or afforded to go to school. But through baseball and the generosity of the University of San Francisco, they got to get a college degree, coming up there and play baseball.
And the baseball program there was not initiated on how much you win, but how much you love to play the game, you know. And that was the base of the program. It’s not based on a lot of these attitudes that exist now in college: you have to be Number One. So I went up there and coached the team, and got money to sponsor it. And between the University of San Francisco and some of the alumni that helped me, we made baseball a part of the program of the school there, you know.
JUDITH: But you say they weren’t … going to school on athletic scholarships in those days? It was just because they were encouraged …
DANTE: Not in baseball. There was basketball and there was football in those days, and they had scholarships. But there was very few baseball scholarships.
JUDITH: You must work very well with young people. You must have an empathy with them, from you own experiences as a youth?
DANTE: Well, you named the answer there. You know, you benefit by your own experience. And I created situations when I was a youth that after I grew up and recognized what I’d done, then I wasn’t too proud of what I did. But I did it. And then when you start to coach, then you just turn right around and you preach just the opposite of what happened to you and what you learned from it.
JUDITH: Right … are there other things about North Beach that maybe we haven’t touched on that you remember that have changed a lot?
DANTE: Oh, this alley out here, for example, you know. We never had a key. My father made his own hams, he made his own salami, he made his own prosciutto, you know, the Italian ham. And his sausages and everything. His basement was wide open. Made his own wine. No key, no key to the house. Door open all the time, wide open.
Walk through the same alley, and you can see the difference and what kind of an attitude there is. There’s bars on the windows, there’s bars on the stairs. I mean absolutely a cold difference, complete difference. I don’t think that the neighbors talk to each other. Even if they live in the same flat. These separate flats, they don’t talk to each other. I mean that was like a big happy family.
I don’t like to mention the name, but there was a family of 11 children. I don’t use the name because some of them are successful, and they’d probably get offended if they see it. But the father was a bootblack man, and he had a bootblack stand at the Ferry Building. And where all those big buildings are built down there was the Produce Market in those days. And he used to walk through the Produce Market, and he had a habit of drinking, you know. And by the time he got home he was not only broke, but he was pie-eyed all the time, you know. And he was a wonderful man, you know, and I think they had 11 children in the family. And the rest of the family you could see … the food that was left over would go over to this family, you know. And that attitude is gone. All you see now is bars on the windows and bars on the stairs …. which is a shame, it really is. It hurts when you really think of it.
JUDITH: Do you think there’s any possibility that people are going back a little bit to being more neighborly?
DANTE: I think so. I’m a firm believer in what goes around comes around, you know. And it’s just like a wheel that turns. And it will come back, it’ll come back. Because there’s a lot of it going on now, where people come in and help in different ways now. It’s sort of an organized help now, you know. There’s different agencies, there’s different things that help. In those days it was the individual’s family that talked to each other and helped each other out.
JUDITH: Do you still live in North Beach by the way, or did you move out?
DANTE: No, I moved. I moved to Sausalito when I lost … I’ve been over there 12 years. [Transcriber’s note: Dante is referring here to the death of his wife Florence.]
JUDITH: So you commute now?
DANTE: I commute … I still think there’s no place like North Beach, you know. But there’s the discomfort of family, you know.
JUDITH: Yeah. And memories and things. It’s hard.
DANTE: Yeah, memories.
JUDITH: When did you lose your wife?
DANTE: Fourteen years ago, I think … no, longer than that. About 19 years.
JUDITH: Do you have grandchildren?
DANTE: Yeah, I have … five grandchildren.
JUDITH: Well done!
DANTE: My youngest daughter has the oldest. She has a boy that’s an actor down in Hollywood now. Plays a lot of bit parts in these morning shows, you know.
JUDITH: Soap operas?
DANTE: Yeah, soap operas.
JUDITH: Oh, that’s a good living.
DANTE: Zach Luna. That’s his name. Zachary Luna. At any rate, he’s pretty good. And he’s a very bashful kid, but what an actor! I couldn’t believe the first time I saw him, couldn’t believe it was him. ‘Cause he has even trouble looking at you when you introduce him to somebody, looking in the eye. But, boy, when he gets on that front he’s terrific …
JUDITH: Isn’t that marvelous. Do they carry on any of the Italian traditions that you grew up with?
DANTE: No, I don’t think so.
JUDITH: They’re so Americanized now...
DANTE: Yeah. Well, one daughter marred an Irishman, and the other daughter married a Spanish fellow … don’t get me wrong, they’re still old-fashioned in the way they bring their kids up, you know. A lot of discipline, and school’s very important.
JUDITH: That’s great … the wine making is fun to think about. Did your dad go down to the trains down on the waterfront and get his ton of grapes every ...?
DANTE: Oh yes. Listen, I got a good story there, too. He used to make wine every year, you know. And that’s when I was about 15, 16 years old, you know. And I was involved in sports a lot. I boxed, I played football. I did, you know, everything. And he had his countrymen, which they called “paisani” in Italian, helping him. After you make your wine, after you let it ferment, when it stops fermenting, you draw the juice out, the wine out, and you put those in certain barrels. Then you get the pomace that’s left and you squeeze that and …
[Transcriber’s note: end of first audiotape]
DANTE: …he says to his countryman, he says “hey, we don’t have to get in there and work hard today.” He says, “I got a son here. He fights, he plays football, he does this, he does that.” He says, “we don’t have to get in there, we’re old men.” He says, “we’ll put him in there, let him get that stuff out of there.” And you know it’s a pomace. They built me up so strong, you know, that I went in there and I started to go boom! Go down and pick that up, and throw it up and pick it up, and throw it up … and I started to get dizzy.
But I didn’t want to say anything because my father built me up so much that I would be embarrassed to tell him “hey, father, I can’t do it. I’m getting dizzy.” I fell head first in there. I got drunk. [laughter] So he tells me, he says, he comes in after and gets me out, he says, “hey, you’re not as strong as I thought you were.” He says, “there’s two different kind of strengths.” He says, you know, “this one that’s the one that runs the muscle strength. So you better learn how to use that along with your muscles.” He says, “when you go down and pick up that, you don’t breathe you come up. Take a deep breath and you dump it.” I got a heat on inhaling that. [laughter]
JUDITH: He said there’s two kinds of strength, that’s amazing.
DANTE: That’s how they taught you. They went in for an opportunity to show how where you’re wrong and the way you’re…
JUDITH: He did that right on purpose. He knew exactly what he was doing. Do you remember that as clearly?
DANTE: Oh, I’ll never forget that one. [laughter]
JUDITH: How do you spell pomi? The pomace? What you were dishing out.
DANTE: Pomace. P-O-M-A-C-E.
JUDITH: OK, pomace. That’s the sort of dregs of the squished grapes?
DANTE: Yeah, that’s crushed grapes … you can call it crushed grapes.
JUDITH: So you had to pitch that out of a big vat?
DANTE: A big vat. They took the liquid out. Then they wouldn’t throw it away. They’d put it in a squeezer and squeeze ‘em. And that would make a different wine than the wine that comes out by itself when they take it out, the first wine that comes out by itself.
JUDITH: It makes a second-generation, so to speak.
DANTE: It’s different. Yeah, it makes a heavier wine. It’s a good wine, but it’s a heavier wine.
JUDITH: Were most of the wines red?
DANTE: Red. 90 percent.
JUDITH: Was it pretty good wine?
DANTE: Oh, beautiful wine. My god. If you put your hand in that wine and when it came out it was like putting it in a bucket of red paint, you know … the red wine they make now is blended a lot now, you know.
JUDITH: Wow! So that would be your wine for the year?
DANTE: Oh, yeah. Every year he made a year’s supply … and then there was a little bootlegging in there, you know. He used some of it for the restaurant.
JUDITH: Especially during the Prohibition.
DANTE: Yeah, during Prohibition he used it for the restaurant.
JUDITH: Gosh, that’s a wonderful story. Do you have family pictures, I assume, of your parents?
DANTE: Yeah, I have quite a few.
JUDITH: Can you think of any other good stories like that? That’s great … I probably should let you go. You have to get back to your restaurant … yes, this is very helpful, Dante.
[Transcriber’s note: there is a break in the audiotape here]
DANTE: …I had won 27 fights and lost none, you know, at the time. So my father was bragging about to his countrymen, you know, what a good fighter his son was. So he invites ‘em to watch me fight. I fought in the national CYO tournament. And I got knocked out in the first round. I never got knocked down. I had 87 fights, and never got knocked down. But he busted my nose. I used to puff up easy, see.
And I come back to my corner and I tell my coach George Malley, and he says to me, “hey, Mini, how was your nose before the fight?” I says, “my nose is fine, I’ve got a flat tire, I’m puffed up.” He says, “I got news for you, your nose is over there.” The guy hit me with a left hook and pushed my nose over there, broke my nose, you know. [laughter] So the referee called the doctor, and the doctor came up and wouldn’t let me continue the fight, they stopped it at the end of the first round, the only time I was ever stopped in all the fights I had. And my father who had bragged to his two paisani, you know, how good I was. [laughter]
So I brought Father Palton [Transcriber’s note: this name is unclear in this recording] with me to the New Pisa. And my father was behind the bar by that time. And he says to me, “hey, you’re no good fighter.” He says, “next time,” he thinks he’s hurting my feelings, but it really makes me get tears in my eyes, it makes me feel great. He says, “next time,” he says, “next time, you bartend for me and I go fight for you.” [laughter] And he thought he was hurting my feelings … and I says to him, “Pa, the reason I come by,” I says, “will you please call Mama?” Because … I was supposed to be home by 10, 10:30 at the latest. And Father Palton had to take me to the emergency to straighten my nose out. So I didn’t get out ‘til maybe it was close to midnight.
My father was almost ready to close down there. And he says to me, “hey, who did the fighting, me or you?” I says, “I did.” He said “well, then you go talk to your mother.” [laughter] He wouldn’t call my mother and tell her. I had to go in … so I says to Father Palton, “Father, you gotta take me home ‘cause my mother’s gonna beat the hell out of me. I was supposed to be home by 10 o’clock, 10:30 at the latest.” And he says, “oh, she can’t hit you, my God.” He says, “you’re all beat up.” I says, “you don’t know my mother, Father. I kept her waiting. I should have called her, you know.” I told him “we should have called her,” you know.
So we go and I ring the doorbell. And Father Palton was standing up in front of me. And she just pushes him out of the way, and she’s got this clothes pole and she goes “Bruto [Transcriber’s note: this Italian phrase is unclear in this recording]” which means a lot of things in Italian. And I run by her, and I go and jumped in bed underneath the covers, and she’s hitting me with that pole on top of the covers, you know. And all I had to do was call her, that’s all … but anyway, the next day, and this is the funny part of the story, Father Palton he took a hike, he didn’t talk to her at all. [laughter] I actually think he was afraid to get beat up himself. [laughter]
But the next day I went to him, and he took me, and he says to me, he goes “what a lucky young chap you are,” he says. “Your family really cares for you.” I says, “thanks a lot, Father, for protecting me last night.” [laughter] I took a worse beating from my mother than I took when I fought. [laughter] But, you know, the beauty of the Italian family is they never tell you to stop. They call you every name under the sun. But if it was your activity, and you didn’t bring a disgrace to the family, it was perfectly permissible, you know. And that’s a beauty. Because you were brought up on your own, you know, your own programs, whatever you did…
JUDITH: You were thrown out into the world. You had to make your way …
DANTE: And I played a lot of football, you know. I played for the University of San Francisco for four years, you know. And in my last game we were playing against Texas A&M. And I said to my mother … you wouldn’t dare ask your father in those days … but I said to my mother, I says, “mom, this is my last game.” And I says, “please come with my sisters.” My brother wasn’t born yet. ‘Please come with Olympia and Germana to see me play and make me happy.” And she says, “Dante, how many times do I have to tell you that the day I come and see 20 stupids jump on another stupid, they’re gonna have to commit me?” [laughter] Never come and see me play.
JUDITH: Your dad didn’t either?
DANTE: No. But it works two ways, you know. You knew you were out there because you wanted to be there, not because your father wanted you to be there … it builds confidence in our own personality, your own character … she wasn’t too far wrong, you know. It really works that way, you know. Because all the aches and pains I got in my body are from football. My knees, my shoulder, you know, my neck. [laughter] They come back and haunt. Come back and haunt you.
JUDITH: They sound very sensible, your parents.
DANTE: They were basic, you know. They were right down to earth.
JUDITH: Those are wonderful stories.
[Transcriber’s note: there is a break in the audiotape here]
JUDITH: …It’s always been the same. That’s another thing I’ve been thinking about. There’s a certain continuance here at the New Pisa. You have the wonderful soup first. You have the same kind of wonderful … healthy food, no fuss.
DANTE: Absolutely. Very little changes. The presentation of the food. There’s very little change. It’s a big change in price, you know. My father had the 25-cent lunch, and the 35-cent dinner. And then it went up. And now it’s $9.50 lunch and $13.50 dinner.
JUDITH: But still that’s extremely reasonable … but your father probably served the same thing. You started with the soup and the salad…
DANTE: Absolutely the same thing. And they made enough money to buy property. Of course, a little bootlegging on the side. You know, they used to sell wine on the side. Stuff like that. But they made enough money. But it was packed all the time. At lunchtime you couldn’t get in. Couldn’t get in. It was packed.
JUDITH: Well, I remember when I was at college I used to go there because you guys would kindly sell us a bowl of minestrone, a big bowl. For 75 cents. And a water glass of red wine. And all the bread and butter that I could get Gerry or somebody to give me. And you could fill yourself up quite well for less than a dollar.
JUDITH: That was 1957 or ’58. Oh, it was wonderful … and that’s where I learned to drink Picon Punches. And it must not have been you, but the man who told me if you drink one you drink it to get hungry. And you have one and you get real hungry. So you have another one. And then you’re hungry, so you have a third one, and then you don’t care whether you eat at all. [laughter]
DANTE: It still works the same. [laughter] It’s a sneaky drink, you know. It really sneaks on you. You think you’re drinking something mild, you know, because the flavor. It’s got a little bit of a bitter flavor to it. But it’s good, and you drink it.
JUDITH: And Matt Vidaver was with you for quite a long time.
[Transcriber’s note: Matthew Vidaver (1913-91) was a well-known bartender and bar owner in San Francisco in the 1950s Beat era, a co-owner of the “Co-Existence Bagel Shop” at Grant Avenue and Green Street, and of the “Coffee Gallery” at 1353 Grant Avenue. He is cited in Richard Lewis, Poor Richard’s Guide to Non-Tourist San Francisco (Unicorn Publishing Co., 1958), as a co-owner of the “Coffee Gallery,” pp. 12, 17, 20.]
DANTE: Oh, Matt. Matt was the best bartender I ever had.
JUDITH: He was a lovely man, too. Distinguished looking.
DANTE: You know, he was so knowledgeable that guy. On subjects all over. But never … unless the question came up that involved, he would never lead with the subject. That guy had more up here than, hell, any college professor I know ever had, you know. And he enjoyed bartending because of the personalities that he met, you know … he was the greatest for me. Such a wonderful guy.
[END OF INTERVIEW]