Vincent Chianese, who became a Pittsburgh icon after more than five decades of owning and operating the renowned Vincent's Pizza Park, died Sunday at Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville.
He was 85.
Henrietta Dahmen and Marlene King, a mother and daughter who worked for Mr. Chianese at both his Forest Hills and Plum stores for many years, said he had been in poor health in the last few years and recently underwent gallbladder surgery. They said he died from complications of ailments related to old age.
The son of an Italian father and a French Canadian mother, Mr. Chianese became famous for his "Vinnie Pie"-- its thick crust piled with all kinds of toppings oozing with his own sauce. He opened the Ardmore Boulevard store in 1950 and operated it and others stores until 2005, when he sold the controlling interest.
"Making pizza was more than just a business for him. It was his life," said Ms. Dahmen, 84, who started working for Mr. Chianese in 1953 and like him, spent about five decades twirling chunks of pizza dough in the air.
And it was for his pies that Mr. Chianese not only gained quite a following among Pittsburgh-area patrons, but also landed a role making pizza in the 1988 movie "Dominick and Eugene," which was partly filmed in his store.
"He was quite the character," Ms. Dahmen recalled. "He worked seven days a week and he almost never took a day off. He just enjoyed what he did and because of it, he got to know a lot of his customers."
Gerard Boscia was one of those customers. Over the years, he frequented Vincent's Pizza Park and even had pies delivered out of state.
"My family started going to his store when I was 7 years old," said Mr. Boscia, 60, of Verona. "I remember when I moved to Florida for some years, I would have my brother pick me up a pie when he came to visit."
Ms. King, who started working for Mr. Chianese at age 14, and spent about eight years -- interspersed between school summer breaks and other jobs -- working for him, recalled that it was not unusual for pies to be sent by overnight courier to customers as far away as Alaska.
Mr. Chianese started making pizzas while working for his uncle in San Francisco in 1947. He returned to Pittsburgh and went to work a night shift as a fireman for Union Railroad until he had saved enough money to open the small parlor on Ardmore.
His wife, Edith, preceded him in death. Surviving are his daughter Toni Zolner and two grandchildren of Glendale, Calif., where Mr. Chianese will be buried. Also surviving are his sisters Louise Chianese of Pittsburgh and Josephine Chianese of New York City.
A number of former employees and friends have planned a get-together from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at Vincent's Pizza Park, 998 Ardmore Blvd., Forest Hills, to pay tribute to Mr. Chianese.
Karamagi Rujumba: email@example.com or 412-263-1719.