COLLINGSWOOD, N.J. – When he was on trial for racketeering, Angelo Lutz denied the mobs existence.
Now hes using his past in organized crime to promote his new restaurant, the Kitchen Consigliere.
The sign out front echoes the logo for The Godfather, but with a chefs hat.
A mural on one wall puts Lutz, also known as Fat Ange, at a table with famous gangsters, both real (John Gotti) and fictional (Tony Soprano). Light fixtures look like 9 mm handguns.
Some nights, he serves a special he calls Joeys Pork Chops, in honor of Joseph Skinny Joey Merlino, the reputed Philadelphia-South Jersey mob boss. Hes also happy to tell customers stories from his past.
Lutz is using some unsavory associations as he attempts a transformation from prisoner to celebrity chef.
Last week, he moved his operations from an 11-table restaurant to one three times as large on a prominent corner of the hip, foodie-friendly Philadelphia suburb of Collingswood.
I never considered myself a gangster, he said. Im not a gangster. The government considered me a gangster. The government considered me a mob associate.
But what I am now is a businessman.
Lutz, 49, grew up in South Philadelphia, where food was a big part of his life. According to federal prosecutors and a jury, he also did some bad things along the way.
He was one of seven men convicted in a 2001 mob trial that made him a celebrity.
He was the only non-made member of La Cosa Nostra in the case and the only defendant allowed bail during the trial.
And he talked while he was out, calling a sports talk radio show and cooking steaks for a TV reporter.
The government said Lutz was a bookie and debt collector for the Mafia. Although he wasnt violent, he was sentenced to nine years in prison. Nearly a year was knocked off his sentence on appeal.
The night before he entered prison, he cooked for his own going-away party, leading one TV reporter to call him the kitchen consigliere.
I then served my time like a man, didnt rat, didnt snitch – you know, took the medicine that went along with when you break the law, he said from the section of his restaurant that pays tribute to Frank Sinatra.
When he got out in 2008, Lutz did some online cooking shows before opening a restaurant in Collingswood. The menu features home-style Italian classics.
Redemption, he said. Thats what Im all about now.