How two island families built friendships and businesses that have lasted a century in Galveston
The bond between the Del Papa and Gaido families spans nearly a century and four generations and can be traced back to the friendship formed by two Italian immigrants — the patriarchs of their families — who moved to Galveston seeking a new life. They would leave an indelible mark on the island with the enterprises they would launch and grow.
It all began in the late 1800s, when Francesca Gaido married Joe Prino in their native Cercenasco, Italy. They decided to leave their northwest Italian community near Milan and move to the United States, where Francesca’s younger brother Giacinto Gaido was living in Galveston. Once the couple arrived, the two young brothers-in-law went into the food service industry together, opening a grocery store.
After a few years, Giacinto opened a sandwich shop in downtown Galveston before creating Gaido’s on Murdoch’s Bathhouse Pier in 1911. His son, Mike, opened a drive-in seafood restaurant in 1941 that was renamed Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant, popular with locals and visitors and famous for the giant crab on the roof. Mike’s three sons, Mickey, Wayne and Paulie, joined the business in the 1950s.
In 1892, Lorenzo Del Papa of Lucca, Italy, moved his family from a coastal Italian city near Florence to Galveston. His 10-year-old son, Omero, worked odd jobs for his father and in his uncle’s store cleaning spittoons for a dime a day. Young Omero Del Papa liked the grocery business, and after surviving the 1900 Storm by hanging from a tree limb, he decided to go into business as Galveston rebuilt.
At 18, he opened a small store. A decade later, his brother-in-law Frank Celli joined his business and they changed from retail to wholesale, dealing in olive oil, ice cream, delicacies and beer. But when the 18th Amendment in 1920 outlawed the sale of liquor and beer, Omero liquidated his business and moved back to Italy with his wife and four children. He wouldn’t stay long.
By 1930, Omero Del Papa was confident the sale of alcoholic beverages would again be legal. He returned to Galveston with his wife and five children, including the youngest, Lawrence. He recaptured his business and contacts and also sold brewer’s yeast, but not alcohol. In 1933, Congress repealed the 18th Amendment, allowing alcohol to flow again.
That’s when the Gaido and Del Papa families, who’d lived about 200 miles apart in Italy, forged their relationship.
As Prohibition laws were lifted, the Anheuser-Busch Co. of St. Louis was looking for a distributor of its products in the Galveston area. Company officials asked restaurateur Giacinto Gaido for a recommendation for this lucrative position because he was familiar with local business leaders.
“My grandfather said that he didn’t have to think long,” said Paulie Gaido, third generation to manage the restaurant.
“He knew that Omero Del Papa had strong business ethics and honesty and was respected for his hard work and commitment to the community. He would be the best one.”
Omero Sr. often was quoted as saying “a good name is better than money.” He valued the family’s reputation in the city.
The Del Papas got the contract and the family has continued to expand Del Papa Distributing Co.
Omero’s youngest son, Lawrence, took over when his father retired and now his son, Larry, is the CEO and president. Del Papa Distributing Co. has grown to employ several hundred workers in 17 counties.
But before the Del Papa enterprise grew so large, it depended on local companies. And those companies noticed the role the Del Papa family had in the community.
Because Galveston relied heavily on tourism, business during winter months was very slow at the restaurant, Paulie Gaido said. In fact, it was through the generosity and friendship between the two company presidents that Gaido’s Seafood Restaurant endured many winters, even during the Depression in the 1930s, he said.
“The Del Papas always extended their credit to the Gaidos so we could get through the winters,” Paulie Gaido said. “I don’t know if Gaido’s would have survived. We have always been grateful to them for their support.”
The association between the two families and their businesses continues today.
“Our old-fashioned values and our businesses have forged a relationship lasting almost 100 years and through four generations,” Paulie Gaido said. “The Del Papas are leaders in this community, and we are proud to follow them.”
“We know the families and can call on each other if needed,” said Jo Ann Del Papa, who married Lawrence in 1950 and said the Gaidos have always been trusted friends and business associates.
Because of their similar Italian cultural ties and business relations, “we are mutually respectful of each other,” said Larry Del Papa, the third-generation executive of the company.
“And that mutual respect goes back generations,” he said.
At Christmas last year, when the Del Papa family made a sizable contribution to the Galveston Food Bank, the Gaidos followed suit and contributed, too, noting they appreciated the leadership shown by the Del Papas.
“If I started to list the way that the Del Papa family has blessed me, my family and our hometown, my keyboard would overheat,” wrote Paulie Gaido in a note to Larry Del Papa in December.
“Con tanto amore, rispello e ammirazione, oggi e siempre, tuo fratello Italian di Christo,” which translates to “With a lot of love, respect and admiration, today and always, your Italian brother of Christ,” Paulie Gaido wrote.
When Anheuser-Busch brought its famous Clydesdale horses to Galveston a few years ago, the Del Papas made sure they stopped for a photo op at Gaido’s, a tribute to Giacinto’s endorsement of Omero back in the 1930s. The memory of their grandfathers’ good will toward each other has never been forgotten.
Today, a fourth generation of Gaidos and Del Papas are in their family businesses. Nick Gaido, son of Mickey — and Paulie’s nephew — runs the seawall restaurant and Larry’s two adult children are employed by the company.