NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — Gary Bimonte, one of the owners of Frank Pepe’s on Wooster Street in New Haven, passed away from a heart attack at his Wallingford home Wednesday night. For years, Bimonte was the face of the beloved pizzeria his grandfather first started nearly a century ago.
Thursday afternoon, customers hoping to grab a slice at the storied brick oven were greeted with a somber sign informing them of Bimonte’s passing, and the closure of the pizzeria for the day.
The restaurant released a full statement on their website that says,
It is with deep and profound sadness that we announce the passing of our brother, Gary Bimonte. Gary was a wonderful brother, son, uncle, and friend to so many, and he was loved by all of us.
Gary was the pride and joy of the Pepe’s family, and there are no words to express the immense void that his passing has left in our hearts. He truly loved and cherished our family’s history, and he was so proud of the legacy that has carried through all these years.
Gary was incredibly grateful for all of the happiness that our family brought to so many people through our love of pizza, and he really embodied the heritage and tradition that Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana is known for today. He will be terribly missed by so many people.
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Ira Manhoff drove in from New Jersey on a work trip and had hoped to eat at the restaurant. When he read the note on the door, he left one of his own, writing, he said, “Rest in peace, best regards, sorry for your loss, and hope to see you soon.”
Those who knew Bimonte personally, like friend Frank Fonteyn, described him as always happy.
“Gary and I became close friends. Very sad,” said Fonteyn as he choked back tears.
Bimonte was a welcoming presence for News 8 crews on numerous camera shoots over the years as he grew his family business into a four-state franchise and product line.
Wooster Street photographer Paul Duda recalled working on a marketing campaign with Bimonte just weeks ago.
“In typical Gary fashion, [he was] in great spirits and ended up giving away the pizzas from the shoot to, let’s see, the police got some, a food bank got some,” said Duda, “I know a number of people if they were having a hard time making ends meet, if food was questionable, they’d go there and get that free pie.”
“He was very much about the history of this pizza, the history of his family, the history of this street, the history of this city.”
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In Wallingford, where Bimonte lived, Barber Aref Hamed of The Barbershop CT says Bimonte was just in his barber’s chair yesterday–hours before he died.
“Everything was normal you know?” said Hamed, “I just can’t believe he was here with me yesterday and I was able to really take care of him.”
Governor Ned Lamont released the following statement:
“Gary was as much of an icon and cornerstone of New Haven as anyone. The loss of the Bimonte family is one the entire state will tragically feel. A man with big heart, Gary was immensely proud and dedicated to his family, employees and greater community. Our thoughts are with the Bimonte family as we all mourn their loss.”
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker released a statement Thursday morning, saying,
“My condolences to the family of Gary Bimonte and the greater Pepe’s family. They are an iconic institution not just in New Haven, but to the country. Their cultural contributions have a lasting impact in our nation’s culinary history. We will always remember Gary for the love he had for this City, his employees, and his family. Please keep his family in your thoughts.”
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Bimonte’s Pizza of Cheshire said on social media Thursday morning, “Mr. B’s would like to send out our heart-felt condolences to Gary’s family, from Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven. Truly, A very nice man, gone too soon. Rest well. We are so extremely sorry for your family’s loss”
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The creators behind the “Pizza, a love story” documentary also shared their condolences.
“Gary was a good friend to our movie and was so proud of his pizzeria(s) and New Haven. Such a positive force. We will miss you Gary,” they said in a statement on social media in part.
Senator Richard Blumenthal released the following statement:
Sad to learn of Gary Bimonte’s passing. When you think of pizza, you think of Pepe’s. My thoughts are with his family during this difficult time. Thank you, Gary, for many great slices & memories.
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Attorney General William Tong also tweeted this following statement on Bimonte’s death:
“So sad to hear of the passing of Gary Bimonte, the co-owner of Pepe’s Pizza in New Haven and Frank Pepe’s grandson. Gary carried on his family’s history, heritage and legacy by making some of the best pizza in the world. My thoughts are with his family today.”
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Pepe’s Pizza was founded on Wooster Street in 1925 by Frank Pepe. The pizza can be found in other locations across Connecticut and has even expanded to Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York.
Funeral arrangements were announced over the weekend. Visiting hours are Monday night from 4-8 p.m. at the Iovanne Funeral Home on Wooster Place in New Haven.
A mass was held Tuesday at 11 a.m. to honor Bimonte’s life and legacy. Pepe’s Pizza was closed Monday and Tuesday in Bimonte’s honor. It should reopen Wednesday.