Amid heartache, family carries on culinary tradition
July 12, 2013 11:00 AM
by MARGARET HARPER, JAMIE EMPFIELD
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The death of owner Enzo Pirrone doesn’t mean the end for Donatello’s Italian restaurant in Indiana, where family, friends and customers are mourning the recent loss.

Rather, with the death of her father, daughter Sibilla Pirrone said the family is feeling a renewed interest in keeping the restaurant — at least until the right buyer comes along.

Though the restaurant has been closed for a few weeks, Donatello’s will reopen today with normal business hours as the family begins to heal through working in a place so full of memories of Enzo.

For Sibilla, it’s a bittersweet feeling.

“It’s going to be a little different coming back,” she said. “My father is pretty much everywhere in this place. But you have to do what you have to do.”

In a way, it will help to ease the transition that Enzo — who worked every day in the kitchen with wife Nancy — wasn’t present at the restaurant for the last two months. Too ill to work, he was sick with lung cancer when he passed away at his home June 29 at the age of 63.

So when they reopen, it won’t be the first time they have to work in his absence, she said. But it will still be hard.

She will miss her father singing in the kitchen, and running around in his chef coat.

And she will miss his routines, ones that she will continue, such as making an espresso for himself and Miguel Galeno, his right hand man in the kitchen for the last decade, before work started.

But they will keep going as Sibilla, who normally works in the front of the restaurant, learns to operate the business end of the restaurant, and everyone else’s roles take shape.

Having the restaurant during this mourning period will keep them busy and provide a distraction, she said.

While Enzo had been battling lung cancer since a February 2012 diagnosis, when he was given six months to a year to live, “the ending just came all at once,” Sibilla said.

While he was hospitalized in Pittsburgh, medical staff informed his wife that the end was near. Since her mother wanted to bring him home, he was transported back to Indiana.

Sibilla got the phone call while working at the restaurant the Friday night before his death. She took off her apron, rushed home and spent his last few hours by his side. While he was unresponsive, she appreciates the time she had with him near the end.

To complicate matters for the Pirrone family, Enzo wasn’t alone in a struggle against cancer. Sibilla’s brother Fabrizio was diagnosed earlier this year with acute lymphatic leukemia.

But Fabrizio stays strong for the family and has a good prognosis, she said. He is undergoing two years of treatment, and in the event a bone marrow transplant is necessary, both she and their brother Enzo Jr. have been confirmed as perfect matches.

With both suffering from cancer at the same time, it’s been a hectic period in their lives, Sibilla said. Putting family first was a factor in deciding to stop offering lunch at Donatello’s, a decision that wasn’t taken lightly.

“It broke our hearts to do that,” she said. “But we had to put our health first.”

Sibilla is thankful for the outpouring of community support for her family during this difficult time.

“The community has lifted our spirits and warmed out hearts,” she said.

Condolence cards are pouring in from customers. Uptown Fitness, where Fabrizio is a personal trainer, has been holding benefit events to provide him support.

Everyone has been “really good to me and my family,” she said.

Sibilla had wanted to celebrate her father’s birthday in June with a special event, maybe something beautiful with Chinese lanterns, she said. But in the craziness of it all, it didn’t happen.

Dana Henry, who knew she wanted to do that for her dad, went out and bought her the lanterns, she said. They will try to plan something now instead to honor him in death.

All those gestures from the community bring comfort to the family, she said.

Indiana hasn’t always been home to the Pirrone family. Enzo and his wife are both from Sicily, and met in Switzerland, where Sibilla was eventually born, she said. Fabrizio was born in Chicago, where Enzo moved his family to join his older brother, who owned a bakery. Enzo Jr. was born in Pennsylvania after the family moved again.

The history of Donatello’s in Indiana begin in 1998 with a restaurant in the Townfair Plaza in White Township. But the Pirrones were forced to relocate with the razing of the former Shop N Save to make way for Giant Eagle in 2008. After opening in a temporary location in Ebensburg, the family returned Donatello’s to the heart of Indiana in 2009 at the former Sgro’s Lounge on Philadelphia Street.

That building and the restaurant are on the market, Sibilla said. But, now more than ever, they want to stay on.

The family is torn.

While they do want the right buyer to come along, they just don’t want it to be for a while, she said.

They have even been considering other options, including a possible expansion. The restaurant was granted a liquor license for the adjacent portion of the building, which they also own.

Or, they could lease the other portion of the building to another business.

There are many possibilities, and a lot of unknowns, Sibilla said.

For now, the family will just take it a day at a time as they heal and carry on Enzo’s legacy at Donatello’s.

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