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Lawrence Marchetti, model train buff ran the old Como Inn, dead at 74

Lawrence Marchetti was model rail buff as well as longtime operator Chicago's old Como Inn legendary Italian restaurant North Milwaukee

Lawrence Marchetti was a model rail buff as well as the longtime operator of Chicago's old Como Inn, the legendary Italian restaurant on North Milwaukee Avenue. He's seen in this 2006 photo cleaning the wheels of a model diesel locomotive in the train rep

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Updated: December 8, 2012 6:26AM

Larry Marchetti’s ability to charm guests was equalled by his skill at keeping the kitchen running smoothly at the Como Inn, one of Chicago’s most successful, long-running restaurants.

Mr. Marchetti also was a train buff who kept the model railroads in good working order at the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Lincoln Park Conservatory and that cornerstone of Rush Street, Butch McGuire’s tavern.

After fighting pancreatic and small-cell lung cancer, he succumbed to pneumonia Oct. 29 at Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview. He was 74.

Mr. Marchetti was the son of Giuseppe and Yolanda Marchetti, founders of the landmark Como Inn, which operated in Chicago for 78 years. It started with 13 tables. Thanks to its warm welcome and consistent, tasty Italian food, it expanded to multiple dining and banquet rooms that could accommodate more than 1,000 diners at a time.

Before closing in 2001 to make way for townhomes, it was a destination for celebration and degustation. People trekked to the restaurant at 546 N. Milwaukee for birthday bashes, christenings, retirement parties, corporate luncheons, wedding banquets and graduations. A lot of proposals were popped in its intimate “chicken coop” room — a little candybox of candle-glow that had six private booths, three that sat only two people.

Mr. Marchetti greeted guests, dispensed samples of the wines he imported for the restaurant and kept an eye on the kitchen and floor to make sure that the food kept coming and everyone was happy.

He treated Chicagoans like VIPs, and VIPs like Chicagoans. Many Italian-American celebrities dined at the Como Inn, including longtime Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and singers Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Dean Martin.

Mr. Marchetti learned the business from watching his parents. Giuseppe was born in San Ginese, near the Tuscan town of Lucca, Italy.

“He had to sell a cow to book passage to America,” said Larry Marchetti’s son, Gino.

Yolanda Mucci came in to apply to be a cashier. Giuseppe fell for her at first sight. She got the job — and a husband. They raised Larry and his three brothers in an apartment above the restaurant. The patriarch named it the Como Inn after Lake Como, which Giuseppe Marchetti considered the most beautiful region of Italy.

The Marchettis had to cope with Roaring Twenties mobsters. “There was a story [that] my grandfather had to keep a shotgun at the register,” said Gino Marchetti. “The ‘Black Hand’ [extortion racketeers] wanted to come in, and they wanted something out of the till, just like in the movies.”

The Marchettis gave their boys a taste of the country at their weekend getaway, dubbed Montefiori (“Hill of the Flowers”). As they expanded the Lemont estate, it filled with blooms and exotic animals, including llamas, peacocks, miniature donkeys, swans (both black and white) and a wallaby.

Mr. Marchetti went to Joliet Catholic Academy and Beloit College, where he studied business.

His first marriage ended in divorce. He met his second wife, Anna Rizzo, when she dropped in at the Como Inn for dinner. Often, she accompanied him to work.

At home, he loved her cooking, including pasta Bolognese, chicken Cacciatore, homemade pizza, stuffed peppers and filet con vino.

“I was so happy with my husband, [with] just an evening at home watching a movie and popcorn,” she said.

She recalled that when she had appendicitis, “He would get on his hands and knees and do my kitchen floor. That’s the kind of guy he was.”

Mr. Marchetti could fix anything that broke down in their home. He liked nothing better on the weekend than wandering around a hardware store.

And every weeknight Mr. Marchetti stopped whatever he was doing to watch Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly.

At the Chicago Botanic Garden, he kept the model railroad running, said his friend, Dave Rodelius, the railroad’s chief engineer.

“He was out there in all kinds of weather — snow, rain, frost,” Rodelius said. “He was great with the kids. He would answer questions from them, and he would let them run the trains.”

Mr. Marchetti is also survived by another son, Thomas, and two brothers, Stefano and Paul. Services have been held.

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