For the past few weeks, Pino’s Il Sonetto has been booked to capacity and the calls from well-wishers have been almost nonstop.

Diners want one last authentic Italian or Sicilian meal before owner Susan Monts-Bologna greets her customers for the last time Saturday night.

“The response has just been humbling, and humility is not one of my strengths,” said Monts-Bologna, who — with her husband Pino — opened the restaurant in 1991.

Pino passed away nearly three years ago, and Monts-Bologna has now decided it’s time for her to move on. “It’s time for me to leave Pino’s passion and go back to mine, which is theater,” said Monts-Bologna, 54, a professional actress.

The fate of Pino’s was somewhat uncertain on Thursday. Negotiations were under way on multiple fronts that could involve a new restaurant or someone even keeping it open under the name Pino’s.

There also is interest in buying the property for development purposes, she said.

Regardless of what happens, Monts-Bologna no longer will own and operate Pino’s, and even if it were to remain open under new ownership, diners say it will never be the same without her and Pino.

“I wouldn’t want someone else to take over. It won’t be the same,” said customer Ernest Holman, who asked Monts-Bologna if he and his wife could get in on Saturday, the last day.

Regretfully, she told him she had no openings unless someone cancels, but she put his name on a waiting list.

Holman is disappointed to see Pino’s close, but, “Everything has a reason for happening,” he said. “As long as she’s going to do what she wants to do, that’s the main thing. If her heart isn’t into it, there’s no reason to do it.”

Monts-Bologna said she began to realize late last fall that it might be time for change. She had some new ideas for the restaurant but let them float away. “I tend to be a very act-on-it type of person,” she said.

She began asking herself if running the restaurant was something she wanted to do for the next 10 years, five years or even two years, and the answer was no.

“The fun was in helping Pino actualize his love, his dream, his passion” of owning and running a restaurant, she said.

She finally realized she was ready to let go.

She hopes to continue living in Terre Haute while pursuing theater opportunities in larger cities including Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis or Louisville. Those opportunities might include acting, directing or teaching.

She and Pino previously lived in New York, where she made a name for herself acting in film, off-Broadway plays and television.

On Thursday night, several diners lamented the end of a dining era.

Roger and Anne Fecher traveled from Indianapolis to eat one last time at Pino’s. They joined Wayne and Ethel Spary.

Wayne Spary said he’s gone to Pino’s for about 11 years because of the quality food, the service and the people, especially Monts-Bologna and her late husband.

He’s gone there for both business reasons or family celebrations. “We’re going to miss it,” Spary said.

Fecher said he came back one last time “to relive old memories with our friends.” There are certain items on the menu “we’ve never found anywhere that are as good as Pino’s.”

The closing “will be a void in the community,” Ethel Spary said. “We do wish Susan well.”

Anne Fecher said Pino had such a presence at the restaurant that “we keep looking over our shoulder thinking he’s going to come out. He had a very charming personality. It’s a lovely place. We will miss it.”

At another table, a group of friends dined there one more time after having gathered there for years. “It’s the best,” said one of the women, Marilyn Pendergast. Another member of the party, Barbara Vogel, said she’s enjoyed the music on weekends.

During a Thursday afternoon interview, Monts-Bologna acknowledged, “We’ve touched a lot of people.”

The restaurant truly was a family affair. Her son, Da, and Will Foraker performed live jazz music on Friday and Saturday nights and were headed into their fifth year. Her son played bass and Foraker played piano.

“They’ve been playing here since they were 14,” she said. Customers “have watched them grow up.”

Through the years, Pino’s also has featured dinner-theater.

“You know, the beauty of ending it now is that I have great memories,” she said. “I don’t want to wait until it becomes a grind.”

Pino’s has 17 employees, and the average tenure of a server is six to eight years.

Everyone is like family.

Jeshua Campbell has been a chef there for four years. “We’re sad about it,” he said. Pino’s offers something unique in Terre Haute.

Josh Moody, also a chef, said he’ll miss the restaurant and its employees. “There’s a time for everything and it’s time for her [Monts-Bologna] to move on,” he said. “It’s going to be tough but you’ve just got to move on.”

Even if someone kept the Pino’s name, it wouldn’t be the same, Monts-Bologna said. The new owners would need to retain her chefs because none of the recipes are written down.

“This is not bacon and eggs or cheeseburgers and french fries,” she said. “This is real Italian food and unless you really know what you’re doing, how can you keep Pino’s going?”

If someone wanted to keep the name, “I would probably write in some contingencies,” she said.

Closing Pino’s has been a difficult decision, she said. “It’s an amazing, double-edged sword. I know I’m moving on to where I should be and need to be. But I’m leaving this incredible journey that I had with Pino.”

She’s thankful to her loyal customers. After her husband’s death, “This town really rose to support me.”

She hopes that Pino’s Il Sonetto was the kind of place that “no matter what kind of day you had, if you came here, the day ended a little better.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.