Eat, play, and donate to help fight diabetes at The Rugiero Casino Royale.
By Karleigh Stone
Photography by Jacob Giampa
Family is at the core of the Rugiero’s restaurants, and it’s also at the center of the foundation’s signature event, the Rugiero Casino Royale.
This event honors Rugiero’s father, Antonio, founder of Antonio’s Cucina Italiana, who passed away in 2008 from complications due to diabetes.
“We thought we should do something more and give something back. We could hold this event, honor Dad, remember him and at the same time raise money for diabetes research,” Rugiero said. “All Dad did was work, but we — my dad, my brothers and I — would take time to go to the food show in Las Vegas. We had some great times there, both business and pleasure. So, we decided why not have a casino night?”
Picture a grand ballroom, filled with guests dressed to the nines and mouthwatering food stations throughout. Then, imagine wandering into a room set to mimic Las Vegas — gaming tables with blackjack, roulette and craps, pit bosses and professional dealers. Add in both a live and silent auction and entertainment, and it’s a recipe for a successful charity event.
“It’s a lot of fun and electricity,” Rugiero said. “Everything is done very much like Vegas, but it’s for charity. You get chips when you buy the ticket. I think guests have more fun because they aren’t worried about losing money. There’s no stress in it. You win prizes.”
Rugiero said the foundation is committed to raising $1 million. Last year, the organization raised $200,000 and is hoping to increase that number to $250,000 this year. With more than 600 guests expected, Rugiero said, “It’s growing. It’s working. We’re getting there.”
The funds raised will go into the Antonio Rugiero Diabetes Research Fund at the University of Michigan Diabetes Research Center and are allocated for finding a cure for diabetes.
“My dad was cared for at the University of Michigan hospital. It’s a wonderful hospital,” Rugiero said. “Working with them has been great. The staff has been very supportive. They see the value in what we’re doing as a significant resource for funding contributions benefiting diabetes research. They appreciate it and, in turn, we work together.”
Lear Corporation, Ferrantino Foundation and Peter Karmanos are the signature sponsors of this event.
Additionally, many vendors provide products for the array of food stations. U.S. Foods in Wixom brings prime rib and turkey for carving stations; Cantoro Italian Market sets up a deli table with Italian lunch meats; Leo’s Coney Island has a Coney dog stand; Penna’s and Bone Yard provide sliders and meatball sandwiches; Joe Muer Seafood contributes raw oysters on the half shell; and Antonio’s itself sponsors a pasta station with Mama Mucci’s pasta. For a sugar-free dessert, the Melting Pot supplies fruit and chocolate fondue. Roselli Foods and Sysco Foods round out the food vendors, and SecureTech sponsors a cigar tent outside.
“Our family is overwhelmed by the amount of support we receive from the community and our business associates. We cannot thank everyone enough,” Rugiero said.
Antonio’s District Manager/Executive Chef and Rugiero Promise Foundation Board member Angel Ballestero says the event means a lot to him and the Rugiero family.
“It’s such a great event and it’s in honor of a great man.”
After the first year of the event, Rugiero realized he could make it more successful by creating a 501(c)3 organization. Subsequently, the Rugiero Promise Foundation was born. Over the last six years, this organization has grown and, now, in addition to hosting the Casino Royale, it also gives to a number of other worthy causes with a mission to improve the quality of life in local communities.
“The sweat equity from its volunteers and board members shows a lot of heart in the programs that we have, especially the Casino Royale,” Ballestero said.
Family is a significant component in all aspects of Rugiero’s life, and the influence of his upbringing in a first-generation Italian-American family is what makes the difference.
“This would not happen without my family,” he said. “My mom and my brothers all share the responsibilities, and we run all of our locations as one big family restaurant. This keeps the quality and service consistent.”
Antonio’s Cucina Italiana has locations in Canton, Dearborn Heights and Farmington Hills. A Livonia location will be opening soon. Roman Village Cucina Italiana is the family’s original restaurant in Dearborn, opened by Rugiero’s father in 1964. NS
Be a part of the Rugiero Casino Royale with the Rugiero Promise Foundation at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at the Ford Community & Performing Arts Center in Dearborn. Tickets are $125 each and include all food, drinks and playing chips. Purchase tickets at rugieropromise.org/event/rugiero-casino-royale-2.