Family, friends remember beloved restaurant owner Tom Caldarera Jr.
The longtime owner of Taliano's Italian Restaurant in Fort Smith recently passed away.
Tom Caldarera Jr. left behind a legacy of good Italian food and even better company. He was 90.
“He’d lived a long happy life, and it was just his time to go," his son Joe Caldarera said.
When Tom opened Taliano's in 1970 with his business partner Jim Cadelli, there were not very many Italian restaurants in Fort Smith, Joe said.
The foods are made from a mix of Caldarera and Cadelli family recipes.
“It was more than just a job to him really," Joe said about how Tom viewed the restaurant.
For Tom, his employees and customers were an extension of his family.
Being open for 50 years, generations of families passed through the doors of Taliano's, and Tom remembered them all.
“He just loved coming to work," Joe said.
Claude Legris, a longtime friend of Tom's, said he went to Taliano's for the food, the atmosphere and to visit with Tom.
Legris was the executive director of the Fort Smith Advertising & Promotions Commission for most of the time that Tom sat on the board.
“He was proud of his family. He was proud of his Italian heritage, and he was proud of Fort Smith," said Sandy Sanders, who served as chairman of the commission for eight years as Fort Smith mayor.
Tom was instrumental in convincing the U.S. Marshals Museum to choose Fort Smith as its location, Legris said. Tom was appointed to the Fort Smith A&P commission in 1995 and served on it until his death, Legris said. He was the longest-serving member of the commission, Sanders said.
Tom had been in the hospitality business all his life. The Caldareras have been serving the people of Fort Smith in the hospitality industry since 1892 when Salvatore Caldarera immigrated to America from Sicily, Joe said.
“We’ve always been in that line of work," Joe said.
But even more important to Tom than hospitality was his family.
“Family was so very important to him," Legris said.
With his wife Dorothy, Tom had seven kids, 24 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
“He was a wonderful family man, excellent father, and husband," Joe said.
Growing up in the 30s, Tom was an only child. He worked to put himself through college and graduated from the University of Arkansas, where he was a “proud UofA alumni," his son said.
He married Dorothy in 1959, and they made Fort Smith their home. In Fort Smith, Tom was heavily involved with his community.
Tom was a board member at The Next Step Homeless Shelter and Day Room.
He could often be found giving out homemade food to the homeless, Legris said.
Tom was also heavily involved with Immaculate Conception Church.
Throughout his life, Tom maintained a strong work ethic.
“He was a tremendously hard worker," Joe said.
Tom passed that trait down to his children, who all worked in Taliano's while they were growing up. Joe remained working at Taliano's and eventually became Tom's business partner after Cadelli retired.