Danny Antolini was the classic front-of-the-house guy at Daniel's Restaurant, the sprawling, 500-seat, 90-employee Somers Point landmark he ran for 33 years before it closed in 1988.
"Danny had a way of making you feel special and welcome," said Joe Donofrio, of Brigantine, a Daniel's customer who became Antolini's good friend. "You wanted to go there, to go say hello to Danny."
Teddie O'Keefe, another old friend, called Antolini - who lived in Linwood and died last month at 83 - "the ultimate host. ... He could light up a room."
But Joy Antolini, the fourth of Danny's five kids - who all grew up on top of Daniel's and worked in the restaurant - said that before her dad went out to meet his customers, he had already spent a long day in the back of his house.
"My father worked the broiler in the kitchen every summer day, and every Friday and Saturday night," said Joy, now of Chandler, Ariz. "Friday and Saturday, you could count on him being there from 7 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon. Then he'd go home, take a nap, and be back at 5 o'clock in his kitchen whites."
And only after the kitchen slowed down - at a place that could do 900 dinners a night - "He would change into his suit to go out and greet the guests," Joy said.
He was a restaurant guy, through and through. Long after he closed Daniel's, he believed in tipping as a way of life - although in his terms, he was "duking" people.
"Dad duked everyone," as Joy said, in a eulogy. "And if you were with dad, you learned to duke everyone (too). Duke the ma�tre' d who seats you, duke your hair stylist ... duke the car-wash (guy), duke the paperboy."
Even right to the end, another daughter, Jean Antolini, of Ventnor, saw Danny hadn't lost faith in duking. He was a devoted Catholic, so when he was sick, a priest came to the hospital to give him his church's last rites.
"He could barely breathe ... and as the priest is blessing him, I see my dad waving his finger" - signaling to his wife, Donna, to tip the man, Jean said. "That's right out of ... his era of the restaurant business."
And Danny wanted to stay in the restaurant business when he could've been long retired. He worked into his 80s for an old friend, Don Mahoney, who owns Somers Point's Anchorage Tavern. Mahoney started in restaurants as a Daniel's busboy, and decades later, he hired his old boss as a daytime prep man in the kitchen.
Danny would work his shift, then sometimes he'd head back to the Anchorage with his wife or friends to eat, or to watch his beloved Philadelphia Eagles on TV.
"And everybody got a little piece of the action," Jean Antolini adds. Her dad was duking everybody - "and he worked there."
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