Neil Romano, 83, passed away at home on July 28. The co-founder of Romano’s Italian Restaurant in Littleton had battled stage 4 lung cancer since March.
“He battled cancer, as he did everything, with strength and compassion,” reads a statement by his family. “He will be missed by family, friends, employees and customers that he touched with his humor and love. And he is back with our mother, Ellie Romano, at what we know was a joyful reunion.”
Mr. Romano was born in Manhattan, N.Y., on Oct. 29, 1929, to John and Carmela Romano. He lived with his family in New York City, growing up to help his mother at her little cafe, The Sugar Bowl. He also worked with his father, John, selling produce from a pushcart.
Mr. Romano moved to Denver in 1958 to help his sister Caroline and brother-in-law Jim at their restaurant. He met Elna Crouch at the Yucca Club in Denver, and they were married on Nov. 30, 1959. Mr. Romano worked at many local Italian restaurants, learning the craft of making pizza.
The couple started Romano’s in December 1967. The restaurant on South Windermere Street has become a local favorite and a Littleton landmark.
“Little did they know what they were creating back in 1967,” son John Romano said after his mother died.
The business boomed from three tables in 700 square feet to 36 tables in 5,000 square feet, and the family opened a second location in Highlands Ranch seven years ago.
“It was the people of Littleton that made them successful, so they gave back every chance they could,” said John Romano.
Awards adorning the restaurant’s wall testify to their service, from Western Welcome Week naming them Grand Marshal in 2007, to being recognized for filling empty bowls for Love Inc., to earning a Business Integrity Award from Littleton Rotary, to being inducted into the Foodservice Hall of Fame in 2006.
Neil was a first boss to countless local teens. The Romanos treated their employees like family, and many stayed on with them for more than 10 or even 20 years.
The couple had three children of their own — Susan Calhoun (Mike), John (Rachelle) and Nicholas (Charlsy) — who gave them eight granddaughters (Audrey Bartlett, Lindsey Bartlett, Molly Bartlett, Carly Calhoun, Jenna Romano, Christina Romano, Traysa Romano and Jordan Romano).
Mr. Romano loved to play games and entertain his granddaughters, indulging them in fun things in life like trips to Disneyland and playing store in his pantry.
“He was a ‘get down on the floor and play’ kind of Papa,” says his family.
Neil was preceded in death by Ellie, his wife of 52 years, and his seven siblings: Concetta, Caroline, Jimmie Joseph, Pasquale, Anna and Louie.
In addition to all of his children and grandchildren, Mr. Romano is survived by many nephews and nieces who looked up to him. He had a big heart and offered assistance in any way he could to family and friends in need.
A celebration of his life will be held at Ascension Lutheran Church in Littleton on Thursday, Aug. 1 at 11 a.m. A reception will follow at Romano’s Italian Restaurant in Littleton.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the American Cancer Society or a charity of your choice.