George Castagnola: 1932-2014

Posted On February 27th, 2014 -

Restaurateur inspired wave of Italian eateries in Hawaii
By Gary T. Kubota

A chef whose Manoa Valley restaurant served as the training ground for restaurateurs of Italian cuisine on Oahu for decades has died.

George “Cass” Castagnola died Feb. 2 with relatives by his side in New Jersey. He was 81.

Castagnola, born in Manhattan, was the son of Italian immigrants and operated a successful restaurant in New Jersey. He would close his restaurant for a week or two in February while vacationing in Hawaii, his son George Jr. said.

“He finally had enough of bad weather,” George Jr. said.

George Jr. said Castagnola worked with a friend at Michel’s to open Castagnola’s at Manoa Marketplace in 1984 and continued operating it until 1990, when he sold it.

George Jr. said his father brought whole containers of food from Italy.

“‘It’s not so much the recipe as it is the ingredients’ was my father’s mantra,” the son said.

At one point Castagnola operated six restaurants but tired of it and made his exit.

The restaurant was so good that celebrities including Don Ho and Tom Selleck were frequent visitors, George Jr. recalled.

“Frank Sinatra had him ship meatballs to Cali­for­nia,” he said.

Castagnola once turned down a reservation by President Richard Nixon because the arrangement would cause an inconvenience to regular customers, and his regular customers came first, he said.

“It wasn’t political,” George said.

Castagnola’s became a template for a style of Italian restaurant popular to an entire generation and more, according to a food critic.

Some people who worked for Castagnola eventually opened their own restaurants, including Verbano, Paesano and Assaggio.

The memorial for the restaurateur is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday at the Elks Club in Waikiki. The service will take place from 10:30 to 11 a.m.

“His ashes are being brought here to be spread in the ocean at Waikiki Beach,” George Jr. said.

Castagnola is also survived by son John, daughter Barbara, a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter.

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