Obituary: Luigi Spinabelli / Italian store owner lived the American dream

Nov. 25, 1927 - Aug. 8, 2013

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Luigi Spinabelli's life was his work. And when work was making delicious meats with family and entertaining friends with homemade wine, life was good.

"It's a wonderful thing to go to work every day and not consider it work, to consider it a passion," said his daughter, Rina Edwards, who now runs Parma Sausage Co., the family business in the Strip District. "He was just somebody that enjoyed every second of life -- he felt privileged to be a part of everything."

Mr. Spinabelli died Thursday. He was 85.

Pittsburghers not familiar with the Parma Sausage Co., which spans four storefronts in the Strip, may have seen Mr. Spinabelli in "The Strip Show," a Rick Sebak documentary that has been on near-constant rotation on WQED since it was made in 1996.

Clad in his usual white coat, Mr. Spinabelli led Mr. Sebak through the factory at Parma, sharing his love for prosciutto and other meats.

"I always thought of him as the guiding spirit of the Strip," Mr. Sebak said. "Everything that you love about the Strip -- good food, interaction with merchants -- he personified that. He was just a great man."

Mr. Spinabelli was born in Parma, Italy, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1954. His father, Alessio Spinabelli, owned a salumificio, or meat shop, on the French island of Corsica, which he fled during World War II.

The family eventually resettled in Pittsburgh and started the meat business here, first making sausage products that they would sell to restaurants and opening their own shop in 1954 in the Spring Way alley in the Strip.

From that location, Mr. Spinabelli and his family built the business into the four-storefront operation on Penn Avenue that it is today.

"He was working 12, 18, 20 hours a day," Ms. Edwards said. "I say that when we took over the business he cut back to seven days a week."

After that technical retirement in 1992, he helped his daughter with bookkeeping and other tasks. But he considered his "big job" to be hosting friends and visitors in Parma's back office with meat samples on butcher paper and his homemade wine.

"They always showed up around 11:30 -- he only drank white wine before noon," said Ms. Edwards of her father and his guests. "Everybody would look at the big clock in the office and at 12 o'clock Dad would break out the red wine."

Mr. Sebak considered himself lucky to be invited there, where Mr. Spinabelli would tell his legendary stories.

His stories included everything from mountain climbing in Italy and falling 90 feet straight and 200 feet overall, to dismantling bombs in Italian waters during World War II and even the way he met his wife, Elena, of Bethel Park, who he first spotted across the room when he was at the North Side YMCA on a date with another woman.

He told the woman "Here's cab fare to go home because there's the woman I'm going to marry." And after much pursuit, he did.

The family moved from their home above the first storefront to Bethel Park in 1965. Many family members continue to work in the store, with even 7-year-olds salting meat from time to time.

"It was just a little family thing and over the years we've been able to keep it growing," Ms. Edwards said. "We continue the legacy that Dad has given us."

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by his brother Lodovico, of Dormont; two other daughters, Rita, of Bend, Ore., and Rosa DeFelice, of Bethel Park; six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Visitations will be held Thursday from 2 p.m. until the memorial service at 5 p.m. at the Jefferson Memorial Funeral Home in Pleasant Hills.

The family suggests memorial donations to the American Heart Association.


Anya Sostek: or 412-263-1308.

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