As close to 50 firefighters fought a stubborn fire in the storage bins of the Salvation Army Thrift Shop on Del Mar Avenue Wednesday afternoon, Gale’s Italian Restaurant owner Gale Kohl was doing some scrambling of her own just down the street from the blaze.
Kohl was overseeing the delivery of more than a dozen pizzas to the hungry firefighters, something she has done more times than she could ever count.
As known as her restaurant is for its food, she is equally known and highly regarded as one of the City’s most committed community philanthropists.
Following a long dream career overseeing food facilities for major film studios, including Disney Imagineering and Universal Studios, Kohl opened her restaurant 19 years ago.
Kohl admits, “This was not my dream job calling me, but as soon as I opened, I understood it.” Soon after opening her doors, she was approached by a representative of the Armory Center for the Arts. She said yes immediately, and a tradition of sorts was born.
“This was familiar to me,” she said. “I had worked in philanthropy at Disney, and my whole family is philanthropic.” Thus the innumerable pizzas delivered to firefighters for years, a tradition that she has maintained, even during the current pandemic.
“I feel fortunate that I was able to do it,” she said Wednesday, as the afternoon quieted down.
“A lot of people don’t have the money or the time, and I just make time for it, and I make sure that I can do it”
Unlike other restaurants who found themselves with excess inventory, for example, Kohl never sold her inventory. She simply gave her provisions and fresh stock away to her staff.
“At one point, I was like, ‘Leave me some potatoes!,’ she laughed, recalling that time. But her generosity rose in the same way it did in more prosperous times.
Now she faces her newest challenge—maintaining her restaurant at 40% capacity, preparing to create a new dining area in her parking lot and crossing her fingers that her own faith in the community will move her forward.
During the lockdown phase of the pandemic, Kohl took it upon herself to paint, repair the ceilings, and create a small porch dining area, while still maintaining a pickup and delivery service.
These days she separates tables, puts out no silverware until a customer is seated, distributes disposable paper menus, and takes the temperature of every customer who enters. Her friendly staff members continue to smile behind their face shields.
Kohl is also preparing to create a ten-table outdoor dining area with a 15” x 50” tent in her parking lot. Drawings and plans have been submitted, city inspectors have visited, and she expects it to be open imminently.
It will be one more showcase of her remarkable and stylish Italian comfort food.
“This was an Italian restaurant before I took over,” she said, “and between my French husband, and my love of Italian food, I knew it was going to be one or the other.”
“The food here is simple,” she said, of her wide-ranging menu. “That’s what I love about it, and I think that’s what people love about it, too.”
We enjoyed a perfectly cooked salmon steak with spaghetti in a lemon sauce, and a capellini pomodoro with capers and olives.
Full disclosure: I am not a tomato person. I never have been. Just to be polite, I tried a small forkful of these tiny chopped roma tomatoes. That was it. They disappeared in minutes, and I looked under the salmon for more. Life-changing, I tell you.
I couldn’t say the same for the broccoli, unfortunately, which will most likely always be broccoli. Kohl offered a substitute vegetable, but I had already struck oil, and I wasn’t drilling anymore.
Early in my visit, I heard some cross-chat about a coconut cake, and as we chatted about our various medical histories and miracles, I opted for a slice, my first slice of cake since quintuple bypass surgery last year. I’m glad I waited.
“This is the kind of cake you can have maybe once a month,” she said. I’m thinking every two months, actually, and those two months could never go by quickly enough.
When those two months are up, I know where I will be.
Gale’s Italian Restaurant is at 452 South Fair Oaks Avenue Pasadena, CA. (626) 432-6705. www.galesrestaurant.com.