Although The Boulevard Tavern remains open on the city’s South Side, someone is missing from it.
The tavern’s owner Nick Petrella, 65, who was known for greeting each customer with a smile, died of an apparent heart attack Wednesday night.
“I went in there Tuesday, just picking up dinner, and looked to the left and saw Nick behind the bar having the most gracious smile. He always made you feel welcome right from the beginning before you sat down. It was the ultimate ‘We’re glad you’re here,’” said the Rev. Edward Noga of St. Patrick Church.
The Boulevard Tavern is marking its 75th year, and Petrella was looking ahead to retirement.
In his last interview with The Vindicator in February, Petrella said, “A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this. I would like to see it carried on.”
Manager Craig Deoring said The Boulevard will remain open “for the foreseeable future” during this difficult time.
“I’ve been here for 20 years,” Deoring said. “And I’m devastated.”
The tavern opened its doors in 1937 at 3503 Southern Blvd. on the city’s South Side. Before that, the Petrella family had operated a grocery store on the site.
Nick Petrella took over for his father, Angelo Petrella, in 1989. Angelo co-owned the bar with his brother Joe Petrella, Nick’s uncle.
The tavern’s building evolved since Nick Petrella took over. He added a large back room and many decorations, including a walls filled with old photos and postcards of Youngstown and a scull used by the 1928 U.S. Olympic crew team.
“There’s no doubt that the building just exudes history. ... Of course the fact that he really re-did most of the inside himself personally, that shows the love he had of it,” said Father Noga.
As the South Side neighborhood saw an increase in crime — including two high-profile homicides in the last two years — Petrella said he didn’t want to move, like other businesses had.
“Moving is one of those things I’ve never contemplated. People ask, ‘Why don’t you move?’ I’m 64 years old. It’s a big step to make at that age,” Petrella told The Vindicator in 2011.
Father Noga said Petrella cared deeply about his hometown.
“Nick was just devoted to the South Side and devoted to the city. He passed through hundreds of young men who were working their way through school,” Father Noga said.
The restaurant’s servers are all male, which began when Nick’s father was hiring staff and wanted to give young men steady work. It became an informal tradition and many Boulevard employees reunited annually.
Petrella is survived by his wife, Francie Petrella, and their three children. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Wasko Funeral Home in Campbell.
“It isn’t the building, it isn’t me; it’s the people who come here that make it The Boulevard Tavern,” Petrella told The Vindicator in February.