Home Food The Restaurant Godfather

The Restaurant Godfather

by Jenny

By Michelle Payer
Photography by Eduardo Schneider

Anthony Bruno’s late father, Andy, shared many pearls of wisdom with his son when the two opened Anthony’s Runway 84 restaurant in 1982 a few miles from Las Olas Boulevard. At 20, the younger Bruno managed the place while his dad bartended at Miami International Airport. “Surround yourself with good people,” Andy told his son.

The 59-year-old restaurateur still holds his father’s advice close, and his love affair with Anthony’s Runway 84 endures. It has remained an institution for nearly 40 years, a place where one New York native once said, “If you tasted the veal parmigiana there 20 years ago, you’re guaranteed to get the same flavors when you return now.” Bruno agrees, saying excellent food, service, consistency, family recipes and an “old-school way of doing things” define the restaurant’s success. He visits most evenings to unwind and check on his baby—or, as he calls it, “the kid who’s out of college and is successful.” For Bruno, the restaurant team is his second family, from Big Al, the executive chef who’s been with him from the beginning, to staff members who have been there for 20-plus years.

Two things haven’t changed in those four decades. First is Bruno’s flip phone. “So many things come at you; I don’t like to be distracted,” he says of his tendency to eschew modern technology. “Besides, I like to hear people’s voices. I like to hear their emotions.”

The second thing that hasn’t changed is his bare wrist. “I’ve never worn a watch,” Bruno says, though he maintains he’s always on time. “I tried once when I was 22 and would look at it all day. I threw it away. The clock doesn’t matter in a restaurant. You do what you have to do.”

Bruno grew up around restaurants and nightclubs in New York in the 1970s. His family was a close-knit Italian American clan in Franklin Square on Long Island, and he is predictably tight-lipped about the notorious figures who cast large shadows inside Anthony’s Runway 84 in the ’80s and ’90s. Rumors swirl that Mafiosi considered it their South Florida meeting place for authentic Italian comfort food. The closest confirmation Bruno gives is a chuckle. “They gotta eat too,” he says. “There was a certain period of time when a lot of different old-timers were in there. People looked for a restaurant that looked like where they were from in the Northeast and where they found each other.”

The allure of Anthony’s Runway 84 drew luminaries that included actors Al Pacino and Chazz Palminteri, whose Mafia characters were immortalized on the big screen. Actor William H. Macy visited, as did boxers Jake LaMotta and Evander Holyfield. Quarterback Dan Marino was a regular and is now one of Bruno’s business partners. Hundreds of celebrity photos grace the walls as a testament to the restaurant’s longevity and Bruno’s steadfast philosophy. “Connect with people. Make them feel comfortable when they come in,” he says. “At the end of the day, people buy from people they like.”

At Andy’s Live Fire Grill & Bar, music wafts from the rooftop while steaks, octopus and these Australian lollipop lamb chops sizzle on the grill.

Aside from small getaways to the Florida Keys, he’s always working and pondering the next trend. That’s what birthed Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, a restaurant he opened in 2002 alongside partner Michelangelo Mozzicato, with Marino and Pat Marzano, who came aboard as the business grew. Hailed by Bruno as “Florida’s first coal-fired pizza restaurant,” it expanded to 67 stores and was sold in 2016.

In 2018, Bruno bought a beachside Lauderdale-by-the-Sea property to help expand Marc Falsetto’s modern Mexican eatery concept, Tacocraft Taqueria & Tequila Bar, with partner Marzano. Another location in Victoria Park followed, and they are planning to open a Plantation location this summer while also scouting a Boca Raton site.

Never content, in March 2019, Bruno opened Anthony’s Pronto Kitchen, an upscale Italian takeout concept in downtown Fort Lauderdale, around the same time as Andy’s Live Fire Grill & Bar, which was born from his passion for Santa Maria-style wood-fire grilling. Likening the latter to a newborn baby, he says it gets most of his attention. For Andy’s Live Fire Grill & Bar, Bruno and Mozzicato partnered to create a slice of Tuscany in Fort Lauderdale, with live music wafting from the rooftop every weekend while octopus, lobster, shrimp, lamb chops and rib-eye steaks sizzle on the grill under the hands of executive chef Kyle “Big Dog” Dowgiewicz, whom Bruno knew as a kid.

“He is a talented chef, and I always said, ‘When you want to do something, let me know,’” Bruno says. “He had some ideas; I had some ideas, and together we created a cool menu. I trusted him, and that’s what you need in this business.” He subtly nods, resembling Don Corleone.

Bruno’s commitment to personal connections drives him, and he insists his work is a labor of love. He chuckles when it’s suggested he’s ignored his father’s advice and has fallen head over heels in love with his restaurants.

“It’s not like I’m digging ditches,” he says. “I like to be around people. I enjoy the camaraderie. If Dan Marino could play football forever, he would play. The Rolling Stones keep playing music because they love it. If you can get it right and get the right people around you, it’s a great business.”

“I like to be around people. I enjoy the camaraderie. If Dan Marino could play football forever, he would play. The Rolling Stones keep playing music because they love it. If you can get it right and get the right people around you, it’s a great business.” —Anthony Bruno

Originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue.

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