4 October, 2022, 16:13

Remembering Brian Luceri, everyone’s best friend from Boston

The Tucson culinary community lost a real treasure with Brian’s passing.

Anyone, and I mean everyone, who has ever walked into Hops Sports Grill has met Brian Luceri. You might have seen him making his way through the dining room, bar, or patio of Hops (a bar and grill meets Italian grandma’s kitchen on Tucson’s east side) in an almost statesmanlike fashion; shaking hands, making small talk, addressing the issues of the day. There was no mistake about it, Brian was in his element on that floor.

Brian was from Methuen, Massachusetts, just a short ride north of Boston. He was a huge Sox and Patriots fan (nobody is perfect), which you’d find out within seconds of meeting him. He had that charming “lawbstah” and “buttah” Italian/Boston accent. If he said he lost his khakis, he wasn’t looking for his pants — he was looking for a Cadillac fob.

Brian’s longtime friend and bar operator of Hops Sports Grill, Chris Amadori, told me:

“You have to mention lobster, that’s all he talked about, and you know it!”

He was right about my observations of Mr. Luceri’s penchant for the crustacean. When I met Brian, we hit it off immediately. We took to each other based on all we had in common, and I soon felt like the little brother he never wanted. However, when I put a lobster roll on a menu, Brian became my new best friend.

Which brings me to Brian’s unwavering support of local businesses. Well before opening Hops Sports Grill, Brian would patronize and support small businesses every chance he got. He also made it a point to teach his family the importance of supporting local. Braigen, Brian’s daughter, explained his dedication:

“He always wanted others to be able to achieve their dreams. He was huge on supporting only local and small businesses. When we went out to eat, he only wanted to go to local restaurants, and never to a big chain. The same went for when we traveled. He would teach bartenders in random cities how to make ‘little beers’ and quiz them on tequilas!”

The only thing Brian cared for more than holding court with guests, local businesses, good food, or his Beantown sports, was family. He learned to cook in the home kitchens of his “Nani” and mom. Like so many young cooks learning from their Italian grandmothers and mothers, he was incapable of making dinner for only three or four people. Therefore, bring on the “army” of children, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and friends when Brian’s food hit the table.

It was those burgeoning days on a stool in his relative’s kitchens that Brian first began to dream of one day owning his own restaurant. Brian and his wife Isabelle opened Hops Sports Grill in 2017. It was the culmination of all the things Brian cherished: family, friends, food, sports, and community.

Brian would say that besides his family and circle of friends, the restaurant was the accomplishment of his life. The dining room on the north side of the restaurant was actually called “The Family Room.” On any given night, Brian could be heard telling his staff to “keep table 20 in the family room open at 6 o’clock, the so and so family always comes in.”

Sure enough, they would come in like clockwork. Things like this happened daily, and yet, Brian would light up in enjoyment every single time.

On the bar side, he enjoyed razzing Yankees fans over a cheesesteak or shot of Una Familia Tequila and chatting it up with each guest like they were his best friend.

That was the thing with Brian — everyone thought they were his best friend.

The Tucson culinary community lost a real treasure with Brian’s passing. His presence will be missed by so, so many. Issy, Braigen, Chris, and his entire Luceri and Hops families will continue his legacy and keep his spirit alive for generations to come.

Rest easy, my friend.

Hops Sports Grill is located at 120 S. Houghton Rd. Unit 174. For more information, visit hopssportsgrill.com or call (520) 300-5898. 

C.J. Hamm is a native Tucsonan and has been covering the local culinary and cocktail scene since 2012.