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Loui’s hold on Brunonia community spans decades

The Brook Street diner’s rich history is colored with student and alumni memories

When students hear the word “Loui’s,” any range of images may come to mind — warm toast and eggs, a study crunch capped off with 5 a.m. breakfast or even a wild night on the town ending with brunch. Regardless of the memories Loui’s Family Restaurant holds, the diner is a landmark in the Brown and Providence community, both as an affordable dining option and a hub for tradition and reminiscence.


Humble beginnings

Louis Gianfrancesco, the namesake and founder of the restaurant, immigrated to Rhode Island from Italy in the 1940’s. Gianfrancesco and his brothers managed a market in Eagle Park, R.I., but Louis left his business briefly to serve in World War II. During the war, he served double-duty as a soldier and a part-time cook, said Louis’s son Johnny Gianfrancesco, who now co-owns the restaurant. While serving, Louis honed his English-speaking skills and discovered a passion for food and hospitality, Gianfrancesco added.

After returning from the war in 1946 Louis and his brothers decided to purchase property at 286 Brook St. to expand their grocery business, said Gianfrancesco, adding that, “my father wanted a restaurant in the basement, though, knowing that it’d be big.”

In the 1960’s Loui’s became a restaurant exclusively. Through the decades it cemented itself as a landmark eatery and hangout for college students and Providence locals.

The restaurant is now managed and owned by Louis’ six children and his granddaughter, Nina Cullinane. Louis passed away in August 1999.


Where everybody knows your name

Many alums share fond memories of their times at Loui’s and have formed relationships with staff. While at Brown, Tom Easton ’80 became particularly close to the Gianfrancesco family, he wrote in an email to The Herald.

“Before my wedding, I stopped by and (Cullinane) pulled out a bottle of champagne from underneath the cash register,” Easton wrote. When he first came to Providence, the restaurant let him eat on credit and “just pay them back whenever whatever,” he wrote.

Charlotte Sherman, who began working at Loui’s in August, said she has already been embraced by staff and customers alike.

“It’s been great,” she said. “It’s like a family environment.”

Because Loui’s opens everyday at 5 a.m., many students arrive at early light to end a night out.

“I love Loui’s. Usually I went after staying up all night,” said Maria Anderson ’11. “I think it’s more a Brown thing.”

Ken Corvese, a Loui’s employee, said students are the restaurant’s most frequent customers, adding that depending on the day, “they’re either coming from studying or partying — majority from partying at 5 a.m.”

Alexandra Garcia ’16 said after watching a movie last semester, she, two friends and her Residential Peer Leader made the trek to Loui’s at the break of dawn.

“I would’ve done it eventually,” Garcia said. “Everyone goes to Loui’s at 5 a.m., so I’ve been told.”

Sumin Lee ’14 said she’s never gone after staying up all night, but added that during exam period she has eaten there because “no other place is open that early.”

Alli Wright ’08 said she and friends used to have lunch at Loui’s every weekend.

“They let you chill and do whatever you want. It’s a very Brown place,” she said. Two of Loui’s many merits are that it is accommodating to students and affordable, Wright added.


Foodie fame 

In 2009, Loui’s was featured on the Food Network series, “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives,” hosted by chef Guy Fieri. Fieri visits various eateries across the United States, and Loui’s was chosen as a landmark to investigate.

“It was fun. We had a lot more customers after that,” said Corvese, who worked during filming.

Gianfrancesco said that after the episode aired, many tourists who were loyal followers of the show visited Loui’s.

“The first day someone came from Texas, an airline pilot. People are trying to get as many as diners (from the show) as they can,” he said.

Gianfrancesco said the dishes featured on the show, barbecue chicken cheese ravioli and granola pancakes, are now some of Loui’s most popular meals.  “After all this time someone still comes in and orders both of them (at the same time),” he added.


Toasty trends

Loui’s menu has remained consistent through the years, but Gianfrancesco said that the most popular breakfast foods change year to year.

“Baked beans used to be big for breakfast, and then there were no beans,” he said. “And now people order huevos rancheros, so they’re coming back again.”

The No.1, which consists of eggs, toast and home fries, seems to be the most popular choice, said Sherman.

Student favorites include Loui’s unique pancake flavors and their variety of muffins.

“My favorite thing to get is a pumpkin muffin,” Lee said.


Blizzard brunch 

During last week’s blizzard, Loui’s remained open Friday and Saturday when many College Hill eateries were closed.

Employees dug their cars out of the snow to get there at opening, Gianfrancesco said. The restaurant received so many phone calls asking if they were open that staff members simply stopped answering, he added.

“It’s what we do. Hopefully people appreciate it,” he said. He likened Winter Storm Nemo to the Blizzard of 1978, when his father stayed open despite three feet of snow.

“He kept it open for three days and got rid of everything he could sell,”  Gianfrancesco said, smiling. “Then he had to walk home in the snow.”


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