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Chris Christini, owner of popular Italian restaurant, is dead at 83

Written By Scott Joseph On June 27, 2023

Photo via Facebook

Chris Christini, the owner of Christini’s Ristorante Italiano, one of the oldest restaurants in Central Florida and a longtime favorite special occasion destination for many locals, died June 23 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 83.

His actual name was Chris Christakos – he was born in Sparta, Greece, not Italy – but he was known for his fine dining Italian restaurant, which opened in the Dr. Phillips Marketplace in 1983, when the area was mostly orange groves; now it is part of the area officially recognized as Restaurant Row.

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He started his restaurant career as a waiter and worked up through the ranks, working for the legendary restaurateur Joe Baum and eventually becoming a manager at New York’s renowned 21 Club, Four Seasons and Alfredo’s of Rome (the New York version of the Roman restaurant that originally created fettuccine Alfredo).

It was with the latter restaurant that Christini moved to Central Florida, opening L’ Originale Alfredo di Roma Ristorante in the Italy pavilion at Epcot in October 1982. (That restaurant closed several years ago and is now Tutto Italia Ristorante.)

Christini saw great potential in the growing Orlando’s growing convention business and mined that source for his new restaurant. Christini’s became a popular destination for business travelers entertaining clients, especially travelers with expense accounts – Christini’s prices were unapologetically dear. (In my first review of the restaurant, in 1992, I noted the plain plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce that cost what was then an astounding $18.)

Because of the restaurant’s proximity to Bay Hill, many golfers, including celebrities, would patronize it. Among the many personalities to dine there was Bob Hope, who then went on The Tonight Show and told Johnny Carson – and his millions of late night viewers – about the veal chop he had enjoyed there. This is the point where one says, “And the rest is history.”

Christakos is survived by his wife, Helen, and daughters Caterina and Elli. Another daughter, Angela, preceded him in death.

Details about the service, on June 28, can be found at Dignity Memorial.

A post on social media from the restaurant said Christini’s will continue to operate as usual.

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