When the Gondolier Italian Eatery shuttered its downtown Boulder restaurant in September 2012, owner Nelson Kugel vowed that the Italian eatery his father opened 52 years earlier would not be dark for long.

Kugel hoped to land a smaller, more affordable location for the family restaurant within 60 days.

That turnaround time was a bit longer -- a full 15 months, it turned out -- but Kugel came through on his word.

On Thursday evening, the Gondolier reopened in its latest home, a 5,176-square-foot space at the Meadows on the Parkway Shopping Center, 4800 Baseline Road.

"We missed this place so much," Boulder resident Tom Rachubinski said after enjoying a meal at the new location with his family. "We're so glad it's back."

Rachubinski and his wife, Jean, said they have been eating at the Gondolier since they moved to Boulder about 30 years ago. Their son Chad, 19, has been eating its classic Italian fare since boyhood. On Thursday, the now-freshman at Purdue University, home for winter break, enjoyed his first Gondolier pizza in more than a year.

"The thin crust... It's a classic," Chad Rachubinski said.

"They're gonna do well here," Tom Rachubinski said of the new location.

Careful reopening

The Gondolier's re-entry into Boulder is intended to be slow and calculated.

The restaurant initially will open for limited hours -- 5 to 9:30 p.m. -- for dinner. Kugel said he is limiting some reservations to accommodate walk-in traffic and to mitigate the effects on the kitchen and waitstaff, and to provide smooth service to patrons.

After the first of the year, the Gondolier will open for lunch service and subsequently start offering catering and carryout services, he said.

"The response has been tremendous," Kugel said. " ... A lot of people have been driving by the space for months waiting for us to open."

Phone calls, reservations and Facebook inquiries have been plentiful in recent months, he said. So it didn't take much to wrangle up guests for the restaurant's soft opening this past Sunday.

Marcos Jimenez, left, and Rito Borrego take out lasagna for the Gondolier s dinner service Thursday night. The 50-year-old Boulder reopened Thursday night
Marcos Jimenez, left, and Rito Borrego take out lasagna for the Gondolier s dinner service Thursday night. The 50-year-old Boulder reopened Thursday night at a new location at 4800 Baseline Road after being closed for 15 months. ( Cliff Grassmick )

Kugel posted a note on the restaurant's front door announcing the planned event. By Sunday evening, 30 people were waiting for the new Gondolier to open its doors, he said.

On Thursday, hostesses reported the restaurant had taken 27 reservations by 7 p.m.

'It was delicious'

Among those diners who called ahead were Longmont residents Tom and Nichole Falkowski, who first dined at the Gondolier 10 years ago.

"We were just really looking forward to having their spaghetti again," said Nichole Falkowski, noting the couple read an article about the business's plans to reopen and began following it on Facebook in anticipation of the big day.

"In fact, today we said, 'That sounds really good,' so we looked it up and here we are," Tom Falkowski said.

Both ordered their favorite: spaghetti and meatballs. When asked whether it was as good as they remembered, Tom Falkowski immediately responded, "Oh, yeah. If not better."

"It was delicious," Nichole Falkowski added. "And the service tonight was fantastic."

Last September, Kugel shuttered the Gondolier because of the size of its 7,000-square-foot downtown Boulder space at 1600 Pearl St., the planned remodeling of that property and the expiration of the restaurant's lease.

Kugel told the Daily Camera at the time and in the following months that he was searching for a more family-friendly spot with lower rent to allow the Gondolier to remain a "neighborhood restaurant" with affordable dishes.

The concept of the new Gondolier was to have a simplified menu with fare -- pastas, soups, salads and pizza -- in line with the roots of the restaurant.

Contact Camera Business Writer Alicia Wallace at 303-473-1332 or wallacea@dailycamera.com.