Lutz is using some unsavory associations as he attempts a transformation from prisoner to opinionated 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. I'm not a gangster. The government considered me a gangster. The government considered me a mob associate," he said. "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 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 Costa Nostra in the case and the only defendant allowed bail during the trial. And he talked and talked while he was out, calling into a sports talk radio show and cooking steaks for a TV news reporter.
The government said Lutz was a bookie and debt collector for the Mafia. Although he wasn't violent, he was sentenced to nine years in prison but later got nearly a year knocked off 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, didn't rat, didn't 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 and his Rat Pack.
In prison, he grew to well over 400 pounds and learned more about cooking, including how to use a microwave to bake a pizza made from flour stolen from the kitchen.
When he got out in 2008, Lutz did some online cooking shows before opening his first restaurant in Collingswood.
But when it came time to move to bigger digs, there was a problem: "I couldn't get conventional bank loans because I'm a felon. I broke the law," he said, slapping his arm. "Shame on you forever, for life."
He raised nearly $100,000 for renovations from investors and crowd-funding for his restaurant, which features home-style Italian classics.
Peggy Crowell of Pennsauken said she's been a fan of the restaurant since visiting its previous location down the street.
"You really feel like you're getting grandma's Italian recipe," she said.
Crowell said Lutz's reputation had nothing to do with her patronage.