Pete Savute's childhood, he admits, was pretty romantic.
He grew up in his family's Italian restaurant, which in the early days was staffed exclusively with Italian relatives — uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents.
They had family holiday dinners and anniversary parties there, and the restaurant — and family — revolved around Savute's charismatic father, John, who died at age 71 in a 2001 plane crash.
This week, Pete Savute is celebrating the 65th anniversary of his family's restaurant, Savute's Italian Ristorante, at 3303 N. Broadway, a Wichita institution that's ably held its own through decades of change and increasing competition.
"It's fun," says Pete, 55, who now runs the restaurant with assistance from his wife, Janice, and mother, Mattie Jo. "I'm just so lucky. I never take it for granted."
Back in the early 1940s, Savute's grandparents — first-generation Italian immigrants John and Mary Savute — were hauling coal to Wichita from their home in southeast Kansas.
Their truck broke down, and while waiting for a part in Wichita, they stumbled across a north Broadway hotel with 13 cabins that was for sale. The asking price was $4,000.
They bought the place and quickly built on a club, naming it The Highway Club.
A couple of years later, the couple decided to change the club into a restaurant serving the Italian food they'd grown up with. They called it Rosie's — only because John Savute's sister had been serving food out of her house and had a sign she didn't need that said "Rosie's."
John Jr., Pete's father, had dreams of becoming an electrical engineer and attended some college. But the lure of the restaurant was too strong. He took it over, changed the name to Savute's and ran it during its heyday. Pete remembers that when he was in junior high, Savute's was a big player on the Wichita dining scene, along with places such as Abe's and Ken's Club nearby.
"Dad was the one who really made it roll," Pete said. "He was the first guy to really have pizzas in Wichita. He was the first to have a radar range (an early microwave). He was the first to have music in the dining room."
John Jr. took an interest in flying in the 1950s and became a pilot. After his father died, he built the Stick 'N Rudder — an aviation-themed club with airplane seats at the tables — onto Savute's.
Pete (who had a short career as a professional baseball player in the early 1970s) also learned to fly, and in the mid-1970s, the family bought the famous fly-in restaurant the Beaumont Hotel, which they owned for about a decade.
Those were some of the best times of his life, Pete said. He and his father would frequently fly to the restaurant, spend the day hunting and fishing, and fly back home. Going back there now gives him "the blues," he said.
John Savute died on Jan. 18, 2001, when a lightplane he was flying struck a power line in Greenwood County and crashed.
Pete closed the restaurant for exactly a week then reopened it, a plan he and his father had agreed to years before in case anything happened to either one of them.
The years have been good to Savute's, which specializes in steaks and dishes ranging from chicken scaloppini to spaghetti and meatballs. (All of which are listed on Savute's signature newspaper-print menus.)
This year — as in many years when the economy is suffering — business was up, Pete Savute said, despite the fact that the restaurant is open only five nights a week.
"My dad always told me that when the economy gets bad, our business picks up. You give people good food and good service at a decent price, and they'll stay with you.
"You get all these places opening up, and it hurts you for a while. But they always seem to come back."
If you go
What: Savute's 65th anniversary celebration
Where: 3303 N. Broadway, 316-838-0455
Specials: Savute's Italian Ristorante at 3303 N. Broadway will celebrate 65 years in business by offering dinners for $6.50 from Wednesday through Sunday. Wednesday they'll serve spaghetti and meatballs, Thursday will be an 8-ounce sirloin, Friday will be chicken scaloppini, and Saturday will be the supreme piatto, which includes lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs and scaloppini.
Hours: 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays