LIMA — CIAO, the Charitable Italian American Organization, is saying a temporary arrivederci to its annual Italian Dinner but plans to resume it in 2017.
The group’s board decided during a meeting Monday evening to cancel its main fundraiser this year because they could not find a restaurant or caterer willing to replace Casa Lu Al, which has cooked the popular Palm Sunday pasta dinner for decades.
Vice President Doug Wise, who also chairs the group’s Pasta Dinner Committee, said Casa Lu Al’s co-owners, John and Tony Venturella, told board members in early December they were retiring from CIAO chef duties. Wise said John Venturella “did not want to jeopardize his health.” He didn’t elaborate.
Calls left for the Venturellas were not returned before press time Tuesday evening.
The CIAO Italian Dinner has become a community institution. Last year’s dinner drew thousands of people to Veterans Memorial Civic and Convention Center in downtown Lima. Organizers estimated they sold about 4,700 pasta dinners, which included Italian sausage, a meatball, salad, and a breadstick. Cannoli, a Sicilian pastry dessert, were also offered as was musical entertainment.
Wise said the event typically involves two 12-hour workdays for the Casa Lu Al staff.
“We started scrambling, looking for people, but because of the magnitude of it, a lot of the places we talked to didn’t want to do it,” Wise said.
Asked if he were one of those asked to step in and fill Casa Lu Al’s shoes, Milano Café owner Frank Guagenti said he could not comment because he wasn’t privy to the board’s decision.
“We’ve been involved in the past, and did it for 10 or 12 years, and then Casa Lu Al took it up,” he said. “There was some discussion about a possible joint effort.”
He hinted that burnout may be behind some restaurant owners’ reluctance. “A lot of people who could do it have done it,” he said.
Wise said the search for a kitchen staff to make the meals meant other important organizational duties had to be suspended. That, and an earlier-than-usual Palm Sunday on March 20 put further pressure on CIAO to cancel this year’s event.
“Usually by December, sponsorship letters have gone out, the sponsors have sent in seed money, everything is ordered by December. We had none of that done,” he said.
The decision to cancel the dinner, he said “was pretty agonizing. There was a lot of debate.”
Wise said the cancellation of the dinner will dim, but not deaden, CIAO’s college scholarship awards, which total $20,000 annually.
“We may not give out as many, but we will give out scholarships,” he said.
He and other board members vowed to hold the dinner next year.
“I know that we want to keep this an event worthy of the distinction that it has been held in the past,” CIAO’s new president, Terri Crosina Spencer, said in a voice mail message left with The Lima News. “We’re looking forward to a new dinner in 2017.
Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or Twitter, @lima_eddings.