Farewell to the ‘King of Caxton Street’
Legendary Brisbane restaurateur Michael Gambaro had two favourite questions: "How many bookings do we have?" and "Are we busy today?"
Mr Gambaro, arguably Queensland's best known hospitality figure, would have been thrilled, and humbled, by the crowd that packed into his namesake seafood restaurant and function centre for his final service on Monday.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the funeral in St Brigid's Catholic Church, Red Hill, was limited to 100 people so the mass was live-streamed into the landmark Petrie Terrace establishment.
Around 400 people paid their respects, including business tycoon John Pearce, rugby league greats Chris Johns and Sam Thaiday, ASM Global's Rod Pilbeam and wife Judy, Olympic gold-medal beach volleyballer Natalie Cook, and former politicians Kate Jones, Paul Lucas and Santo Santoro.
Tears and tributes flowed for the Italian immigrant who started with nothing and spearheaded an empire.
From a humble fish and chip shop to the landmark Gambaro's he opened with his late brother Domenico in 1974, Mr Gambaro oversaw the award-winning Black Hide Steakhouse Caxton Street, five-star Gambaro Hotel, Black Hide by Gambaro at The Treasury, and Persone in North Quay.
Delivering the eulogy with older brother John, Donny Gambaro said his father had three loves - family, business and the diners he served.
"We would joke about this because sometimes we didn't really know which one he actually loved more," he said.
"He was a person who loved his friends as much as family; he never forgot about anyone and would drop in bearing seafood if you were unwell."
While Mr Gambaro handed the reins to his three sons, including Frank, he was never a silent observer.
"You could say that Dad never really retired," Donny said.
"He would say, 'the boys might run the business but I hold the hose to douse the fires'."
Mr Gambaro had "the gift of the gab" and could talk to anybody, from celebrity diners (including the late Kenny Rogers and Luciano Pavarotti) to people down on their luck.
"Anybody who walked through his door, it didn't matter, he just loved people."
John Gambaro described his father as a "very disciplined man" who "always kept you on your toes".
"When I was young I used to purchase seafood at the markets, and being young and having fun I would always get home at a ridiculous hour," he said.
"I would receive a phone call at 5am, knowing it was Dad, and I'd pretend I was already at the markets buying this and that.
"Dad would respond, 'Do you think I'm an idiot? Get out of bed and get to work'.
"It's not until you are older that you realise how much these small things have an influence. While maddening at the time, it really did teach me that hard work pays off."
John said his father, born in Calabria in 1937, was a lucky man and a generous philanthropist but had "more than his fair share of tragedies".
His first wife Tina died in 1966 when their daughters Maria, Gina, Clara and Rosie were small.
Shortly after, he married Josie and "through the next 53 years their love and bond became unbreakable", John said.
Granddaughter Alessandra said Mr Gambaro was "our world".
"It didn't matter if you were the cleaner or the customer paying the biggest bill, he made everyone feel special," she said.
"He taught us to run our own race, to be the best we could be, and to treat everyone with respect because you never know their story."
Grandson Michael said: "We will walk in your footsteps and live up to the things you saw in us."
Following the funeral service, Mr Gambaro was driven past his beloved restaurant one last time.
His hearse literally stopped traffic as some of his grandchildren released doves and staff held letters spelling "Rest in Peace Michael Gambaro".
Mr Gambaro, who was laid to rest in Nudgee Cemetery, is also survived by daughter Hedy, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Mr Gambaro is also survived by daughter Hedy, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Originally published as Farewell to the 'King of Caxton Street'