Closing its doors at the beginning of August, Angelo’s and Vinci’s Ristorante, which was located right next door to the Fox Theatre at the corner of Harbor and Ellis Place, will be missed. With long lines winding around the 52-year-old historic Fullerton landmark in its final days, I had never seen the restaurant so crowded. One day before Angelo’s and Vinci’s permanently closed, I scheduled an interview with owner Cynthia Peck to discuss her memories of the restaurant and how she and her husband, Steven Peck, acquired such wonderfully unique and eclectic décor.
Originally built as an L-shaped marketplace, the building that housed Angelo’s and Vinci’s has a rich history. It was initially constructed in the early 1900s when Fullerton was still an orchard. Local farmers and vendors used to bring their produce to the marketplace to sell to townspeople. About twenty years later, the building was changed from its original L-shape to a square. Large wood barrel trusses used in the restructuring of the building could still be seen inside the restaurant’s Sicilian Room and the Piazza Fantasia.
According to Cynthia Peck, before it became a restaurant, the front of the building was a used bookstore, then a liquor store, and then a motorcycle repair shop in the back. “We did a major renovation; excavated the basement, built out to the property line, and we went up three stories to replicate the feeling that we had, that the restaurant had when we were ten feet next door in the Fox Theatre,” she said.
Actor and dancer Steven Peck originally opened the restaurant as a small Italian café as a place for his dance students to earn extra money. In 1992, it was moved right next door to the Fox Theatre.
According to a Los Angeles Times article posted on a wall by the flight of stairs leading up to Angelo’s and Vinci’s second-floor dining area, the restaurant “moved across an alleyway” from its original location to its current location in the “cavernous building the Peck family had bought and renovated.” The restaurant’s website also says that during their renovation in 1992, “the old wood, terra cotta tiles, and brick was salvaged and re-used to keep alive the feeling and memories of those days long ago.”
“In this building, my husband had this vision, especially the wall that we call Le Strada de Nonna, the wall of the grandparents,” said Cynthia. “He had drawn it out on a sketchpad, just handed it to the construction guys, and said, ‘I want this up there.’ And somehow, they made it happen.”
Both Steven and Cynthia Peck loved to travel. They often brought back items from their trips. “Every gift that we brought back to the restaurant has a special memory attached to it,” said Cynthia. “As we collected things over the years, it just kind of evolved, and every new little treasure found its own space in the restaurant.”
A year-round Christmas tree stood in the center of Angelo’s and Vinci’s main dining area. Italian paintings of varying sizes hung from the walls, surrounded by artificial cheeses and salamis. I was curious as to how the Italian town square area inside the restaurant was constructed. Cynthia explained that all those little storefronts are dedicated to the family’s ancestors and what they did when they emigrated from Sicily to the United States. “So, it makes you feel as if you’re dining in the midst of a piazza, where you have all the little storefronts of old Italian butchers, cheese mongers, fruit and wine vendors around you,” she said.
Colorful Sicilian puppets, carnival masks, and jesters added to the restaurant’s unique atmosphere. Inside a banquet room, at the end of a long hallway adorned with photographs from the past, there were mural paintings of the canals of Venice. Another room with carnival fairy lights had chairs piled high with pizza delivery boxes.
When asked what she considers to be the restaurant’s most unique decoration, Cynthia said, “My guests, my beautiful guests that come in, all with their own stories, histories, and memories. That’s the most unique and beautiful part.”
Looking up at the ceiling from the dining area, I remember spotting two acrobats swinging. Cynthia explained that it took a scissor lift to get them up there. Down below, in the basement, many might remember Angelo’s and Vinci’s Monster Wine Cellar, which scared kids for generations. It was marked by a red neon sign above a stairway close to the entrance. “The Monster Wine Cellar was left over from the Fox Theatre next door,” she said.
“When we were on that stage for twenty years, the vaudeville dressing rooms were underneath the actual stage, and that’s where the restrooms were and where we’d store all the wine. At the end of that long corridor was King Kong in a cage, and everybody loved King Kong; it became the ‘monster wine cellar,’ so we had to continue that when we moved next door. We still have King Kong down there, but we have some other monsters as well. People would always say, ‘It was so scary when I was four, but it’s not so bad anymore.'”
Cynthia has been the restaurant’s sole owner since her husband, Steven, passed away. “It has been different,” she said. “You know, I ran the restaurant with him for twenty-two years, and then it’s different with him being gone eighteen years. We never had any children, so this is my child. My team is my family; my guests are my family. So, it’s hard to let go. I hope everybody continues to talk about memories made at Angelo’s and Vinci’s to keep this place alive in that way.”
After Cynthia and members of her family take home mementos, they plan to have an auction of some of the décor. Cynthia explained that it would mostly be auctioned off. “I’m really excited for my customers, my guests, to have some little memorabilia of Angelo’s and Vinci’s in their home; that would mean a lot to me.”
The last photos of Angelo’s and Vinci’s Ristorante just before it closed in August 2023. Every room had a story and held memories for generations of people. Photos by Emerson Little