Ray Gilmore: a passion for the kitchen and for his church and community

Ray Gilmore of Redding, owner of Cibo in midtown Manhattan, recently conducted his fourth annual “Cibo on Location” at the First Church of Christ, Congregational, where he and his family are members. The annual event is a church fund-raiser. —Jennifer Wastrom photo

New York City in the late 1970s was a dirty, dangerous and delinquent place. A young police officer, one of only 1% on the NYPD force with a college degree, worked as a plainclothes cop in the Anti-Crime Unit. He and two partners operated out of a retrofitted yellow taxi, looking for and responding to whatever the city threw their way.

“No one knew we were out there. We were three guys in jeans with guns involved in a million things,” Mr. Gilmore said.

In their spare time, the three hung out at the renowned Upper East Side establishment Elaine’s, elbow to elbow with devotees like Woody Allen and Jackie Onassis. Elaine sometimes gave the young officers free drinks; she appreciated the fact that while the celebrities put her on the map, these men were her neighbors. One of the officers was particularly influenced by Elaine’s vocation and her philosophy.

This police officer’s name: Ray Gilmore. Three decades later, Mr. Gilmore, who calls Redding his home, still works in the city. His days with the NYPD far behind, he is the owner of a popular midtown restaurant — and one of Redding’s most enthusiastic community volunteers. His journey from the cab to the kitchen to the Redding community is a colorful one.

Recently, on a beautiful Monday morning, Ray Gilmore arrived at the Congregational Church with a large plastic container (he called it a “slop bucket”) under his arm. He was there to pick up what remained from the church’s fourth annual Cibo Dinner, a successful fund-raiser that had taken place the previous Saturday night. Cibo, which means food in Italian, is Mr. Gilmore’s celebrated restaurant in midtown Manhattan (767 2nd Avenue at 41st Street). For the fourth year in a row, he has directed the transformation of the church’s fellowship hall into “Cibo on Location.”

Bringing with him the restaurant’s china and linens, the food, and his top-notch staff, including executive chef Joseph Pagano, Mr. Gilmore offers 100 guests a gourmet New York City dining experience — right in the center of Redding. It is an extraordinary effort, and an extraordinarily generous one, church members say. Tickets cost $100 per person; Mr. Gilmore donates everything. Asked why he does it, Mr. Gilmore replied simply, “This is what keeps me centered; this is what community means.”

Mr. Gilmore started working in restaurants as a second job while still with the NYPD; as a cop he made only about $230 a week. At night he would patrol the streets — from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. — and by day, he was a waiter or a maitre d’. In 1983, he left the force to pursue his dream of owning his own restaurant. He and a partner, with nothing but “youth and enthusiasm,” opened Roebling’s Bar & Grill in the then brand-new South Street Seaport.

“Not having money makes you a better businessman. There’s no getting lazy. We were two young, single guys in Manhattan with no money and a 10,000-square-foot restaurant space. But we knew what would draw the crowds,” said Mr. Gilmore.

And draw them they did. Roebling’s was an overnight success packed with tourists by day and throngs of young Wall Streeters after dark. It sat 300 customers for meals, in addition to a bustling bar whose clientele often spread out onto the cobblestoned street. Admittedly, in the beginning it was trial by fire. The first few days, before the gas was turned on for the stoves, they still managed to serve 900 meals (albeit cold entrées such as salads) to an eager audience.

“Good business forgives a lot of bad business mistakes,” recalled Mr. Gilmore of those early days. He referred to his experience at Roebling’s as “the most expensive college on earth,” but credits it as an exceptional education for what would be his next business venture, Cibo.

In 1995, after 12 years as proprietor of the dining hub at the South Street Seaport, Mr. Gilmore was ready to make the move uptown. He lived on East 38th Street and had heard that the nearby vacant restaurant space in the landmark Daily News building might become available. Two months later, on Sept. 19, 1995, Mr. Gilmore welcomed customers to Cibo. It was smaller, seating 120 diners (instead of 300).

“I went from an aircraft carrier to a cabin cruiser,” he said. It’s been 17 years, and Mr. Gilmore is happier than ever at the helm of Cibo.

“Everything in my life that is good has come out of that restaurant,” he said. The best thing, he readily admitted, is his wife, Mavi.

“In 1999, this tall, beautiful woman walks into the restaurant with her mother. To this day, hers is the only coat I’ve ever checked,” he said. They were married in 2001.

In 2006, Ray and Mavi Gilmore and their two young children moved to Redding. “We fell madly in love with the town and found the house of our dreams,” he said.

Mr. Gilmore could soon be found coaching T-ball on the weekend for his son, Clark. He has continued that role through Redding Boys & Girls Club baseball for the past six years (Clark is now almost 11, daughter Grace is 9). He also coaches basketball in the winter at the Community Center.

When asked how he juggles running a restaurant in Manhattan (he commutes in by train five days a week) with coaching duties every Saturday and Sunday in Redding, he replied, “You owe it to this town when you are blessed enough to be living in it. I also want to be kept young, which I feel I get by being with the kids.”

After six years here, the Gilmore family is happily ensconced in Redding. Mavi Gilmore, formerly vice president of her mother’s architectural firm, received teaching accreditation and is now a Spanish teacher at Joel Barlow High School. Clark attends John Read Middle School, and Grace, who enjoys Redding Boys & Girls Club field hockey, is in the fourth grade at Redding Elementary School. They are all active members of the Congregational Church.

“The church is incredibly grateful to Ray for sharing Cibo with us,” the Rev. Dr. Dean Ahlberg said of the recent Cibo on Location fund-raiser. “He provides everything free of cost, and brings his A-team up here to the woods that night to ensure we receive the true essence of the Cibo experience. With his head chef, Joe, and his staff working their magic in our humble church kitchen, and his extremely professional but warm maitre d’, James Latz, managing the volunteer waiters in our fellowship hall turned sophisticated dining room, the event is an artfully mastered, unique and important fund-raiser for the church.”

In reflecting on the evening and on his profession in general, Mr. Gilmore said, “I’m in the kitchen, so I’m not seeing it, I’m hearing it. It’s been 30 years in the business, and I still love the noise, the buzz. There is something so satisfying about hearing people sharing the joy of food, the joy of their community.”

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