- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - The first Valentino’s restaurant in Lincoln has baked its last pizza and served its last customer.

Longtime customers packed the restaurant at 34th and Holdrege Sunday on its final day of business. It opened in 1957 and has thrived over the years. The company has grown to 35 restaurant locations in four states since changing ownership in 1971.

For Randy Chapp, 58, the restaurant is a touchstone from his childhood. He remembers being age 10 and going through the buffet line with friends at his birthday parties. Whenever family members needed a place to celebrate graduations, Christmas or Mother’s Day, they’d go to this - the original - Valentino’s.

“As long as I can remember, this is the place to go,” Chapp said.

Lorrie Pearson, 57, said she’s been to the Valentino’s on 70th Street, which she said has a bigger selection on its buffet.

“But this place is better because it’s smaller,” Pearson said. “Even if the recipe is the same, it’s better here.”

Chapp, Pearson and even assistant manager Mohammad Al-Haidari agreed something will be lost when the new Valentino’s opens next door. The restaurant needed to modernize and get away from the 1970s look, said Al-Haidari, who has worked there 13 years.

But the new one won’t have the faded, pasta-colored paint chipping off the walls, nor the fake grapes and grapevines hanging from the ceiling. There will be no sign that Val and Zena Weiler used to run their Campus Fruit Market at the address before starting their first Valentino’s, armed with three dozen pizza pans and an old recipe from Zena’s family.

“It’s not just a loss for me but all of Lincoln,” Al-Haidari said.

He said he’s made more than 100,000 pizzas there and intended to savor his memories on its final day.

“I was the first person to greet a customer today,” Al-Haidari said. “I want to be the last.”

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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