For nearly five decades he has been a greeter and seater of guests visiting the famed Cranston establishment known for its good food and good service, Twin Oaks.
Last Thursday, however, Phil Caliri worked his last shift. It proved to be an emotional day, as he has been the maitre’d at the restaurant for 47 years, ever since graduating from Salve Regina College in the early 1970s.
It’s not all he’s done in that time, either. Caliri was a Cranston Police Officer for 30 years, and for part of that time he was a school resource officer nicknamed “Officer Friendly,” whose job it was to talk to elementary school children about keeping their bodies safe from inappropriate touching, a job he found rewarding, but heartbreaking too. Additionally, Caliri was a radio announcer on WLKW’s late night and overnight shifts for six years.
One might wonder when Caliri, who is also married and the father of three daughters, found time to sleep over the past five decades. But in looking back, he knows that there was not one part of it all that he would have wanted to miss.
“I loved that job,” he said about each one, as he reflected upon the positions he has held over the years.
“I just loved the people coming in here,” he said about Twin Oaks. "For a little state, in Cranston of all places, this is such a well-known restaurant."
Over the years, he has had the opportunity to meet and greet Rhode Islanders from all over the state, from the Twin Oaks regulars to the first-time visitors, as well as greeting visitors from other states and even a wide variety of celebrities, from athletes to actors and government officials. Caliri believes that it is the combination of old Italian and American styles, as well as the top quality customer service that keeps patrons returning again and again to Twin Oaks, and make its fame stretch beyond the Rhode Island borders.
“This is the only restaurant I know that treats people so well,” he said. “I’d go to Florida on an occasional vacation, and be on the beach and people would come up to me to talk about Twin Oaks. People who are in Texas, Chicago, and up and down the New England coast know all about Twin Oaks. We have a good crowd who come up from New York City and they all say their steak in New York is good, but the steaks here are better.”
For 47 years he has enjoyed being a part of what he feels is a special staff, many of whom have been at Twin Oaks for almost as long as he has, and he knows that it is a part of what he is going to miss, now that he has officially retired.
“Our waiters here are very good,” he said. “It’s the one place where people will work here for 30 years and still be here. They’re helpful, they’re good with the customers and I am really going to miss them.”
When asked why he is finally retiring now, Caliri thought for a moment before replying.
“I think that in the last ten years of my life, I deserve a vacation by now,” he said. “I’d like to take a Blue Danube cruise and see things like that. At my age now, from day to day, you don’t know how much time you have left.”
He became emotional as the hour closed in on the 2:30 p.m. end of his shift.
“I can’t help it,” he said. “To think that this is my last day.”
His wife, Carole, waited for him in the lobby and a small crowd of staff and customers gathered, waiting for him to take a seat there for a few minutes.
“He is a true Cranstonian,” said Frank Zappa.
Joe Ferro agreed.
“Phil has watched just about everybody in here grow up,” he said.
Caliri knows that in addition to the his co-workers and customers, he will be missing the management at Twin Oaks and the owners, and they will all miss him as well, although they’re not so sure he’ll be able to stay away for very long.
“Just take a few days off, and come back once a week,” said owner Susan D’Angelos-Valles. “You won’t be able to stay away.” Manager Don Rachiele summed up the thoughts of many. “It’s been an honor to work with Phil Caliri.”