As 1945 drew to a close, Sarno’s Restaurant in Lima had a problem.
“Somebody lost our Vitrolite!,” declared a Dec. 21 ad for the restaurant in the Lima News. “We were going to have such a magnificent new front, but somewhere along the line, the Vitrolite was lost. It was shipped from West Virginia on November 24, and we had all the railroad traffic ‘chasers’ we could find, looking for it – but still no Vitrolite for Sarno’s new front.”
Despite the missing Vitrolite, a colored structural glass, the popular Lima nightspot at 119 E. Market St. was looking pretty good. In mid-December the restaurant, which had closed earlier that month for remodeling, touted its new furniture, booths, lighting, bar, draperies and mirrors. An ad in the Lima News in advance of the restaurant’s Dec. 20 reopening boasted, “The quiet, reserved magnificence of the new Sarno’s is a tribute to the intelligent designing and the understanding of Jim and Nena Sarno. Together, they have planned for many years to provide Lima with ‘Northwestern Ohio’s Finest Restaurant’ and their ambition has come true. Yet they insist, it’ll still be Sarno’s and ‘High Class but not High Hat.’”
Jim and Nena Sarnos’ dream restaurant would remain a popular spot for food and entertainment through the 1940s and ’50s. The couple also was involved in several other Lima nightspots, including Nena’s Lounge on East North Street and Jimmy’s Bar on South Main Street.
James Joseph Sarno was born May 10, 1914, in White Plains, New York, one of nine children of Italian immigrants Antonio “Tony” and Mary Rose DeMeo Sarno. By the time Jim Sarno was 16 years old, his family had settled in Lima, where his father operated a grocery store on North Main Street. Two of his brothers, Joseph G. Sarno and Lucca J. Sarno, also ran grocery stores in Lima.
Antoinette “Nena” Rose Diglio/Daley was born in Lima on Christmas Day 1916, the daughter of Italian immigrants Louis C. Diglio/Daley and Rosa (Napoli) Naples Daley. Nena was the third of seven children born to the couple. The family had settled in Lima in the early 1900s.
On Aug. 25, 1937, Jim Sarno and Nena Daley were married at St. Rose Catholic Church. They were the parents of three daughters, Rosemarie, Theresa and Nena, and one son, James.
Around 1942, the couple, who had been linked in life, became linked in business. On April 10, 1942, a News ad announced, “Jimmy Sarno invites you to his grand opening of the new Glendale Gardens, three miles north on West Street Road.” Subsequent ads would list “Jim and Nena” as proprietors of the club. That link to the Glendale Gardens would continue until October 1944.
By November 1944, Jim Sarno is listed as manager of DeVer’s Restaurant. Three weeks later, an ad in the News announced that “Jim and Nena (are) now operating Sarno’s bar-grill, restaurant, formerly Devers Restaurant, 119 E. Market St.” The restaurant offered dancing six nights a week as well as “Italian spaghetti, steaks and chops” and was open more than it was closed, from 5:30 a.m. until 2:30 a.m.
The building the Sarnos’ restaurant occupied was built in 1892 as a hotel but had housed a restaurant since about the turn of the century.
With the world at peace and their remodeling complete, the Sarnos shared their hopes for the future in an ad in the Lima News on New Year’s Day 1946: “We’re looking ahead for the thrills of a ‘dream that came true.’ We only hope the whole world can enjoy its dreams of peace and happiness in 1946, as we will be enjoying our dream – the new Sarno’s.”
The new Sarno’s soon was employing about 25 people and serving up not only spaghetti, steaks and chops but also entertainment.
“You’ll enjoy the dance music at Sarno’s,” a May 1946 ad promised. “It starts at 6 p.m. and continues to 2:30 a.m. Bring your party here for an evening of real fun.”
Lima band leader Karl Beach and his orchestra often were featured at, what ads declared to be “The Showplace of Lima.”
The showplace of Lima expanded in 1949.
“Construction of a new banquet room and remodeling of the kitchen, now underway at Sarno’s Restaurant, will cost an estimated $34,000, James Sarno, owner, announced Saturday,” the Lima News reported July 3, 1949. “The banquet room will be housed in a new cement block structure, being erected at the north end of the restaurant. Sarno said it will be used for private parties and will be completely modern throughout.”
What was called the Balustrade Room opened that autumn.
“The Balustrade Room is ideal for luncheon clubs, annual dinners, combination business and entertainment meetings,” an ad that October in the News read. “Here without interruption or interference, groups can meet, eat, and enjoy themselves.”
Sarno’s was again upgraded in 1957. The Lima Citizen reported Oct. 6, 1957, that the “new Sarno’s” would center on a six-sided bar, which seated 40 people. “In the center of the bar is a bandstand for the guest entertainers, which are booked every three or four weeks,” the newspaper wrote.
Sarno’s now also featured a two-way entrance, the Citizen noted. “The night entrance opens onto the cocktail lounge area, which is set off by wallpaper of a Washington Square, New York City scene. This in turn opens into the bar area, the dance floor, and the dining area. The left entrance leads to the new counter area, which will specialize in kosher corn beef and prime beef sandwiches, pizza and carry out services.”
Even before the 1957 improvements, Sarno’s was a popular spot for live entertainment with groups like the Marvelaires, from Philadelphia; the Noveltones, from New York City; the 4 Freshmen and the Four Coins making appearances in the early 1950s.
However, by the early 1960s the Sarnos were beset with financial problems and were forced to sell Sarno’s Restaurant and their other Lima holdings. In April 1961, Sarno’s became the El Tempo night club. On Christmas Eve 1963, the El Tempo and the building that housed it were gutted by a massive fire and were razed before New Year’s Day.
Antoinette “Nena” Sarno died at the age of 59 in April 1975. Jim Sarno survived her by more than 12 years, dying in late December 1997 at the age of 83.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.