El Rio was landmark on Strip

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment of a two-part story about the family-owned El Rio / Fiore’s Ristorante.

On St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1946, Vincent Fiore and Tony Prince opened the El Rio restaurant and lounge for business. It was one of the first to provide air conditioning back in the day, when movie theaters like the Robins and the Harris-Warren in downtown Warren were about the only places you could go to escape the summer heat. Remember the blue and white banners that hung below the marquees that advertised “It’s Cool Inside?”

Vincent Fiore immigrated from Italy in 1913. Before the El Rio, he and his longtime friend, Tony Prince, had operated a restaurant called the Santa Rosa on Pine Avenue SE across from Automotive Inc. After World War II, there was a booming steel industry and plentiful jobs, so opening a new restaurant with fine dining made economic sense and it was a logical move for the partners.

Vincent loved people and his restaurant. He was usually up front greeting customers, whom he considered to be his friends. He had a friendly, warm manner, a beautiful smile and loved to tell a good joke. He was very proud of how well the food was prepared and served at the restaurant, yet every day he went home to have lunch with the family.

The El Rio’s name was changed to Fiore’s El Rio in 1976, when the Prince family bowed out of the business. In 1987, the restaurant’s name was changed once again to Fiore’s Ristorante. The El Rio name may have confused newcomers to the restaurant who were expecting Spanish food.

The El Rio was famous for live Maine lobster, which was flown in twice weekly, outstanding prime rib, steaks cut to order, Italian specialties and good old American dishes. Freshly baked onion rolls and sweet rolls accompanied the meals, and baked desserts, including strawberry shortcake and rice pudding finished off an elegant dinner. Homemade soups were prepared daily. Along with the food, there was a well-stocked complete bar, where you could order just about any drink imaginable, as well as a large selection of wines and champagne. The tables were always dressed in starched linen and napkins, and the hostesses were elegantly attired – even in evening gowns at the beginning.

So what happened to this famous restaurant that was in business for 52 years? Aside from the brothers’ decision to retire and the unwillingness of their children to continue the business, there were other factors that affected them and many of the locally-owned great restaurants on The Strip. Alberini’s, Cherry’s Top O the Mall, the Living Room and the Astoria, all fell to the same sorts of problems. The demise of the Kenley Players in Warren in 1977, the influx of national chain restaurants, long working hours for family members, the closing of steel mills and other industries and tighter government regulations, such as taxes on tips for employees, to name a few, all came together to affect the future of the local family-owned restaurant.

After Fiore’s Ristorante closed, others tried to make a go of it at the site. All such attempts withered and died. So this once glorious place stood vacant and abandoned until it was razed earlier this year. It’s just another place for local natives to remember fondly as profound developments changed the face of the area.

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday.com.