Ott and Kay Cesario were married for 68 years before she died in 2011, at 90. For more than 50 of those years, they worked together too - happily. Most of that time, they ran a Mays Landing landmark called Caesar's Italian Restaurant.
Caesar's wasn't far from Atlantic City Race Course, which was fine by Ott. Mary Sommer, one of Ott and Kay's two daughters, said her dad was still going to the track until just weeks before he died last month, at 97. And he could drive himself there from his late-life home in Mays Landing until he was 95, she adds.
Caesar's opened in Mays Landing in 1968 or so, about 10 years before another business with a similar name - but much bigger, brighter signs - opened a casino on Atlantic City's Boardwalk.
Ott - short for Attilio - grew up not far from the Boardwalk, in the city's old Italian section, Ducktown. He went into the U.S. Army for World War II and came home on leave to get married. When he got home for good, he and Kay opened a little Pleasantville luncheonette, T's Garden Grill.
They moved up to a bigger lunch spot nearby, the Rialto, then grew again by opening Caesar's in Pleasantville - the Cesarios' hometown for decades. The name stayed when they moved out to Mays Landing.
Some of their lunch spots had been so tiny, Kay and Ott were the whole staff. But Caesar's in Mays Landing seated 250 for dinner - and had a banquet room that held 350.
"That was a big step," Sommer said. "It was rough at first, but they had good food and made good friends and got a lot of repeat business."
Caesar's was a family place. The workers included Sommer and her sister, now Cathy Tardosky, plus the former Kay Perri's six brothers and sisters - and most of their kids.
"And if you weren't family, you felt like family," adds Barbara Kupp, of Mays Landing, a longtime customer turned family friend. "I was a teacher (in Mays Landing) for 35 years, and we had so many functions there ... just because they were so good to you."
Kay was the "go-getter" of the pair, their daughter says, who was much busier in running the business. Ott was more of a host, greeting customers and friends with a cup of coffee and making sure everybody left smiling.
When they sold Caesar's in 1997, Kay and Ott split time between Pleasantville and Florida. They moved back permanently to Mays Landing in 2011, and Ott enjoyed his retirement, often at the race track or at Mays Landing's Mill Street Pub - where he still got to see lots of his old Caesar's friends.
"He was just one in a million," Kupp said. "If you could write the description of the person you'd love to have as a father and grandfather, ... Ott would be it."
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