Obituary: Marco Sacco / Former owner of Downtown restaurant Piccolo Piccolo
March 13, 2017 7:51 PM
Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Marco Sacco was known locally for his restaurant, Piccolo Piccolo, which had a 26-year run at the corner of Wood Street and Fort Pitt Boulevard. But he is more widely remembered for his generosity.
In a letter to the editor in 1994, Shirley Culver of Rochester, N.Y., recounted her first visit to Pittsburgh with her daughters for a Pavarotti concert. After what she called a “superb” dinner at Piccolo Piccolo, they called a cab. Thirty minutes later, they were still waiting.
“Observing our growing distress,” she wrote, “Marco arranged for a driver to take us to the arena. Because of this personal attention, we were seated just a few minutes before the concert began.”
Mr. Sacco died March 3 of heart failure. He was 87.
Piccolo Piccolo served classic Italian fare, with the salad last. Former Post-Gazette restaurant critic Woodene Merriman wrote of its “sumptuous antipasto buffet.” Many people, after dinner there, thought they would never need to eat again.
Robert Albenze, who called his cousin Uncle Marco, said Mr. Sacco made all the sauces for each night’s dinner every morning at home and bagged up what was left in the restaurant every night for homeless people.
Born in the Hill District three months into the Great Depression, Mr. Sacco was the child of immigrants from Calabria, Italy.
At age 33, he opened Napoleon III, a restaurant across from the William Penn Hotel. He turned that into the private club Beau Brummel Club in 1965. Mr. Albenze became his business partner in a brief 1980s venture, Jazz on Liberty.
But Mr.Sacco’s musical passions ran to opera.
“Every time Pavarotti performed in Pittsburgh, they would spend time together,” Mr. Albenze said. At the Pavarotti table at Piccolo Piccolo, “they would hold court with all their Italian friends.”
With his son, Frank, his co-owner at Piccolo Piccolo, Mr. Sacco initiated meal deliveries for hospice patients in the early ‘90s. They got the idea after a customer told them his dying wife longed for their Strudel of Pasta. The restaurant didn’t have a delivery service, but it made an exception for patients. The Saccos eventually convinced 10 other restaurateurs to take part in hospice deliveries.
Mr. Sacco’s largesse extended to people he didn’t even know were celebrities.
Mr. Albenze recalled two visitors who pulled up in a limo from a hotel on a very busy night.
“They had on T-shirts, blue jeans and work boots, with long hair,” Mr. Albenze said. “Uncle Marco wondered if they could afford it.”
Without reservations, they accepted a little-used table in the bar, he said, and because the place was so busy, Mr. Sacco waited on them. “At the end of the meal, one of the guys said ‘I wonder if you want to attend my show tomorrow night?’
“Marco thought, ‘show? What, the tractor pull show?’ Marco didn’t know who Eric Clapton was.”
The next night, two friends who did know who Eric Clapton was used Mr. Sacco’s tickets and returned with a personal thank you letter from the rock star, he said.
Michael Elden, who was 6 when his mother married Mr. Sacco, said his stepfather “reminded me of Rocky Marciano. And he dressed impeccably, like he could be in GQ magazine.
“He was a happy guy, always having a good time, and everybody loved him.”
In the ‘80s, Mr. Sacco was treated for bleeding ulcers, and his doctors told him not to work so hard, to relax more, Mr. Albenze recalled. The night they sent him home, an ice storm collapsed the roof of the garage where his Rolls Royce Silver Shadow was waiting to be reappointed.
“He called me and told me, ‘I got the hood ornament. About all that was left.’ He was upset but we laughed about it.
“In the last few years, I took him to lunch once a week, and we would sit and reminisce,” Mr. Albenze said. “He was a good man. I miss him terribly, already.”
Besides his stepson and cousin, Mr.Sacco is survived by his wife of 65 years, Helen Pauline Sacco of Whitehall and his granddaughter, Lucia Sacco of Ross. His son Frank died five years ago.
Mr. Sacco was a veteran of the U.S. Army. His services were Thursday at the John F. Slater Funeral Home in Brentwood.