Center City landmark La Buca is for lease after owner's death

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Giuseppe Giuliani at Ristorante La Buca in 2014.

Giuseppe Giuliani — chef/founder of the Washington Square institution La Buca — passed last week at age 83, about six months after doctors found a brain tumor.

“While my father was the heart and soul of the restaurant and could never be fully replaced, most of his work has been absorbed by my brother, Anthony, and my wife, Jeanie,” said son Richard.

The restaurant is still operating, but its future is up in the air. On Sept. 5, MSC Retail sent a flyer offering the restaurant for lease.

The restaurant, which opened at 711 Locust St. in spring 1980, is one of the longest-operating restaurants in Center City. Among Italian restaurants, only the Sena family’s La Famigilia in Old City, which debuted in 1976, is older.

In a 2014 Philly.com profile, the Pisa-born Giuseppe Giuliani — who routinely worked 14-hour days — reflected how he learned to cook as a concierge for a wealthy man with ties to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

He came to the U.S. in 1958, not speaking English. He and his wife, Mary, settled in Philly, where he found work at a collection of long-ago restaurants, including Arthur’s Steak House and Gaetano’s. In 1976, he and then-partner Enzo Fusaro opened Il Gallo Nero, a destination Italian, on 15th Street at Latimer, where a Buca di Beppo later stood and where Howl at the Moon is now.

La Buca – literally, the basement — opened after a three-year zoning battle. Among Giuliani’s partners was famed defense attorney A. Charles Peruto Sr., who died in 2013. The beginning was auspicious. Told that Luciano Pavarotti would be visiting Philadelphia to judge a competition at the Academy of Music, the partners rushed the opening to host the tenor. They named a room after him; it features an autographed photo of Pavarotti and Giuseppe Giuliani.

Giuseppe Guiliani, also survived by three grandchildren and brother, was honored in 1997 by Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro for promoting Italian food and culture.