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El Rio / Fiore’s Ristorante: Part 1

Some time when you’re driving southeast on Youngstown Road (422) downhill from Pat Catan’s at Ridge Avenue and before you get to Cafe 422, keep glancing to your right. You just might spot a forlorn little red maple tree looking over a newly-leveled and filled-in plot of land. At first, you may not realize it, but that plot of ground was once the site of the El Rio Restaurant, later called Fiore’s El Rio, and finally Fiore’s Ristorante. Remember?

The restaurant specialized in Italian food in spite of its Spanish name, which meant “The River.” It was one of the great places to go on “The Strip.”

Gabriele Fiore and Giulio Fiore, both sons of Vincent Fiore, managed the restaurant until they decided to close it in late June of 1998. Gabe was 66 and Giulio was 68 at the time. They cited both their age and the fact that their children weren’t interested in following the family-owned restaurant tradition.

It was once a place alive with action and camaraderie. It was once one of the watering holes for movie stars who came there after playing their roles at the Kenley Players who put on summer stock shows at Packard Music Hall.

The Kenley Players, produced by John Kenley, played in Warren from 1958 to 1977. Such stars as Robert Goulet, James Garner, Dom DeLuise, Ozzie and Harriet, Vincent Price, Bert Reynolds, and Dinah Shore, just to name a few, found their way to The Strip and, among other good restaurants, the El Rio. They came there to relax, enjoy fine dinners and drinks, and to just have a good time.

While at the restaurant, Robert Goulet once received a phone call from New York that informed him that he had been picked for the lead role as Sir Lancelot in Alan Lerner’s Broadway musical “Camelot.”

The Fiore family also owned the Travel Lodge Motel in back of the restaurant. Zsa Zsa Gabor (who called everybody “Dahling”) stayed at the motel and had to have a whirlpool in the tub, a full-length mirror, color TV (unusual for the day), and a special bed for her dog. She also required a change of color for the drapes.

The restaurant was a great place for singles on their first dates because the guy could impress her with elegant cuisine and excellent service. One time, a couple got engaged in the lounge to the soft music of violin and cello.

Gabe Fiore remembers another time when a couple came in one evening requesting a particular table. He apologized because he had just seated a couple there and said that it might be quite some time before he could seat them. The husband explained that they just had to have that table because it was the place where he had proposed marriage and had given an engagement ring to his wife 40 years before. They waited to be seated at that table.

Friday nights were especially active when patrons stood three deep at the bar where beverages of any concoction were served. Ernie was a favorite bartender.

Weddings, confirmations, anniversaries and family get-togethers were celebrated in the adjacent banquet room with excellent food and services.

Before there ever was the El Rio, the property at 4256 Youngstown Road was an Ohio State Highway Patrol barracks, before they moved their operations out on Parkman Road extension on Cleveland-bound U.S. Route 422 in Southington where they continue to operate.

The property was purchased by the Fiore and Prince families in 1945. The W.B. Gibson Company contractors were hired to renovate the existing structure and construct a restaurant and lounge on the property.

The second part of this story will be published Aug. 25.