While looking for work, a German friend taught Ralph how to make tamales and he soon started selling them for a few cents apiece to make a living.
“He sold tamales everywhere- at all of the local restaurants, casinos and up at Lake Tahoe,” says Ralph Galletti’s grandson and current Coney Island owner Greg Galletti. Although his grandfather’s tamale shop was originally located in downtown Reno, he eventually moved the business over to his house on 2644 Prater Way because that was the main point of residence in which he was cooking the tamales.
In 1935, tamale sales were going so good that Ralph built a brick façade on the building and began calling the tamale factory Coney Island (named after an amusement park across the street). Meanwhile, Ralph’s son (and Greg’s father) John Galletti fought in World War II and when he came back safely in 1946, John obtained a liquor license and opened a bar. In the 1950’s, the family added a full kitchen and expanded its menu to include more than just tamales. As John got older and needed more help, Greg jumped into the business and started working at the bar when he turned 21.
“I liked cooking and learning the recipes from my grandparents,” Greg says. “My dad was a great cook, but my mom was even better- she took after my grandmother,” he adds. This was in the mid-1980s when all of his friends from college frequented the joint and business was booming.
Now 70 plus years later, Coney Island has expanded to include a dining room and is open for lunch, special dinners, private banquets (that can host up to 80 people), and libations. Greg’s sister Lorri helps with special Italian Wednesday Night Dinners and recently launched Spaghetti Tuesdays and Corned Beef & Cabbage Thursdays.
“When my dad got out of the war, he opened the bar right before St. Patrick’s Day,” Greg says. Serving corned beef and cabbage was John’s idea for this reason, and that’s when Coney Island Bar celebrates its anniversary.
Along with the corned beef and cabbage, Coney Island Bar’s signature drink is the Picon Punch because “it’s hard to get it right and it really does pack a punch,” as Greg says. Personally, his favorite dish on the menu is the roast beef sandwich.
“I don’t know what makes it unique- maybe that it’s made with simple ingredients, is cut really thin and comes out rare,” he says.
When asked if there is a chance one of Greg’s kids will take the business over, he says that he’d rather his children continue their education first and foremost. He says that it would be rare for another generation of Galletti’s to take it over, but he’ll keep it going and then the family can decide from there. His son is interested in cooking, so there’s a chance.
“It’s a lot of fun cooking this stuff and I love (Sparks) although we’re really close to Reno,” Greg says. Plus, throughout the years it has remained a popular hangout as the high school football referees gather there every Friday night, new faces, and old friends continuously come in.
Plus, Greg says, “There is still a good group of people who come in who used to buy tamales from my grandpa”.
Coney Island Bar is open for lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturdays. For more information, visit coneyislandbar.net or to make a reservation, call (775) 358-6485.