Al Cianfichi came from the East Coast and settled in the Bay Area after fighting in the Korean War. He bought the Antioch casino in 1978 and has been host to poker players 24/7 since then. He acquired the restaurant in 1985, remodeled the casino and bar a few years ago, and added a banquet room to the dining area. Today, he runs the casino, bar and dining room with his wife, Estelle; his daughter, Linda King; and his son, Alberto.
On Saturdays and Sunday, the casino comes alive with charity fundraisers and tournaments. Buy-ins start at $10 for a $1,000-prize pool. On Mondays through Fridays, the winner takes all with a buy-in of $22. On Feb. 24, Kelly's will raise funds for the Delta Baseball League's uniform and transportation costs. On March 2, All-American Academy is expecting $16,350 from the fundraiser.
"When I was a kid, I didn't have much," said Cianfichi. "If a family has two or three kids in a sports program, the costs can be unbearable. So since we are a licensed card operator, we use Sundays at the casino to fundraise: 50 percent of the winnings goes to the fundraiser, and 50 percent goes to the prize pool."
Cianfichi makes sure the casino is clean and safe. With the police department just a block away and state-of-the-art camera systems in place, the casino's security record is clean. "Should there be misbehaving patrons, we just ask them leave politely," says Cianfichi.
The dining spirit thrives, too, in a traditional Tuscan setting at Kelly's Fine Dining, named after King's daughter. Beveled candlestands exude a flickering glow onto the white table linen. The menu, crafted by executive chefs from five-star hotels and cruise ships, offers such delectables as Prawn Scampi in butter ($19.95) and Rib-Eye Steak in Madeira mushroom sauce ($19.95).
All main courses are accompanied by soup, salad, dessert and coffee. Strawberry-banana and cherries jubilee are popular flambeed desserts that never fail to delight.
Kelly's boasts an extensive wine selection of mostly Californian and some Italian bottles.
"Food is good and it's local," said Antioch resident Toni Ring.
In guest Norman Whitley's opinion, "It's a great place to eat and a good place to play poker."
For private parties, the separate banquet hall is decked with Italian casual chandeliers, paintings, and long tables that can be arranged in a variety of settings and can hold 52 guests.
"We don't charge facility fees," said King, Kelly's Dining and Casino administrator. "We just ask that they use the banquet menu here. We've had many wedding receptions here, and birthday or anniversary parties. Lately, women's groups and organizations have booked their meetings here."
The banquet menu is just as enticing. For a minimum of 10 in your group, choose entrees such as Cornish Game Hen stuffed with wild rice and chasseur sauce ($19.95), Filet Mignon with shitake mushroom sauce ($24.95), or Broiled Filet of Salmon with light teriyaki sauce ($19.95).
Cianfichi likes to keep busy with his casino and dining business. He's emphatic that what keeps him going is "dealing with nice people and doing the fundraising for the kids," he said. "It might be not as rewarding financially, as a lot of the earnings go into the fundraisers, but it's rewarding emotionally because I'm doing it for the kids. Any group that wants to raise funds, including school groups, can call me and we can work something out."
Kelly's Casino and Fine Dining is located at 408 O St. in Antioch. The phone number is 757-7120.