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'Gigi' Delmaestro, 66; Maitre d' Made Everyone a Star

July 18, 2002|DENNIS McLELLAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He was the quintessential Hollywood maitre d', doling out tables and booths to a celebrity clientele ranging from Madonna, Sylvester Stallone and Adam Sandler to Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michael Ovitz and the Reiners, Carl and Rob.

But the Palm Restaurant in West Hollywood is not just a place for stars, talent agents, studio executives and other entertainment industry power eaters, Louis "Gigi" Delmaestro always insisted.

"We try very hard to make everyone feel special," he said in an interview several years ago. "I make everyone who comes in feel like a star."

Delmaestro, the Palm's gregarious Italian-born general manager-maitre d', who was a fixture at the restaurant since it opened in 1975, died Saturday of cancer at the home of his daughter Madeline Tugentman, in Maplewood, N.J. He was 66.

At the Palm, where the menu includes the Gigi salad, the mustachioed Delmaestro was as much a part of the dining experience as the celebrity caricatures on the wall and the restaurant's famous steaks and lobster.

"They don't come like Gigi anymore," said talk show host Larry King, a friend of Delmaestro who eats at the Palm as often as three times a week. "That's kind of a dying concept in restaurants, the host who's always there.

"It was kind of like show business: Gigi went on every day, two shows a day, lunch and dinner. He knew how to treat people well, both those coming in the door and the people in the kitchen. It was comforting to come in and see him standing there at the desk."

Everyone in show business, it seemed, knew Delmaestro.

King said he attended the memorial service for Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman on Monday and "at least 20 people around me were talking about Gigi [and his passing]. Everybody knew Gigi because the Palm was a television and movie hangout."

And yet, said Alan Horn, president of Warner Bros., Delmaestro was "celebrity-blind, he was colorblind, he was prestige-blind. The beauty of the place and the beauty of the man was he treated everybody the same."

Horn had been a customer of the Palm since it opened and became a close friend of Delmaestro.

"I got the feeling from him that he loved his work, he loved the people who worked for him and he loved his customers," Horn said. "That sense of his own devotion to everything about that place and his work was almost visceral. It was part of his persona, of his being, and it was communicated to me as a patron of this restaurant and made me feel even more comfortable, even more welcome, even more happy to be there.

"This was a guy who loved his life."

Born in Parma, Italy, Delmaestro came to the United States in 1950 at the age of 14 and entered the restaurant business two years later as a busboy at Mario's Front Page on 46th Street in New York, where he stayed for nearly 20 years and rose to general manager.

He began working as a waiter at the original Palm Restaurant in New York City in 1971 and helped open the Palm II in New York two years later.

Delmaestro joined Palm co-owner Wally Ganzi in opening the Palm in West Hollywood in 1975 and after a few months working as a waiter, moved into management.

Delmaestro--he was called Gigi because a cousin couldn't pronounce his real name, Luigi--attributed his skills as a maitre d' to possessing a "great sense of people."

"I kind of sense when they come in how they're going to react, and basically I can almost sense what they're going to eat or drink," he told The Times In 1998. "What makes me better than anybody else? I'm seasoned. I've been doing this for a long, long time."

Delmaestro is also survived by another daughter, Elizabeth Salituri of Maplewood; his sister, Angela Delmaestro of Queens; and three granddaughters.

The family requests that memorial donations be made to the Gigi Delmaestro Memorial Fund, in care of the USC-Kenneth Norris Jr. Comprehensive Cancer Center, 1441 Eastlake Ave., Los Angeles, 90033, Attention: Debbi Cordano.

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