Restaurant patrons looking to turn back the clock to a more glamorous era of dining should look no further than Ruggeri’s in Preston Royal Southwest.
Once a week, the restaurant has started offering classic, fine-dining options on rolling carts such as chateaubriand, rack of lamb, and strawberries flambe. The Thursday-night experience causes many diners to remember a time gone by.
“Back then, waiters wore tuxedos,” owner Tom Ruggeri said. “My customer base is of that era and they miss it.”
The New Jersey native was in a doo-wop band called the Prince-Tones, danced in an episode of “American Bandstand,” and worked in a kitchen in Long Island before moving to Dallas in the 1960s, where he intended to open a pizzeria with his brother, Bob, and cousin, Phil Vaccaro.
Instead, he worked his way up from busboy to waiter, sommelier, assistant manager, and general manager at his cousin Mario Vaccaro’s restaurant — aptly named Mario’s — over a period of 20 years.
Ruggeri first opened his own restaurant in 1985.
“I was always an ambitious kid,” he said. “My mother and grandmother taught me how to cook. I know good food and what it’s supposed to taste like.”
After building the restaurant’s reputation at a few different locations, he moved into the Preston Royal spot in 2006.
“Gosh, I wish he had been there all along,” shopping-center owner Robert Mitchell said.
Mitchell himself is a lifelong Preston Hollow resident. He remembers driving back and forth to Hillcrest High School on a tractor from his parents’ nearby farmland. So it’s no surprise that the bygone-era ambience of the restaurant appeals to him.
“He brought the very best waiters,” he said of Ruggeri. “Some of those guys had been with him since the heyday of Mario’s. He brought the best and opened with a bang.”
Ruggeri counts Ray Hunt, Mayor Mike Rawlings, and the late Harold Simmons among some of his highest-profile patrons.
Over the years, the restaurant has also welcomed some broader-based celebrities such as Larry Hagman, Mickey Mantle, and Charlton Heston, to name a few.
But the faces that mean the most to Ruggeri are those of his mother and father, whose individual portraits still hang in various rooms of the restaurant, watching over him as he concocts Caesar salads and slices meat at his patrons’ tables.
“Everything is personal,” he said. “We’re Italian — that’s just normal.”
This story appears in the August issue of Preston Hollow People, on stands now.