Mario W. Antonacci, 77, proprietor of the family-owned Como Restaurant, died Monday in Erie County Medical Center, Buffalo. He had been hospitalized since being struck by a car in front of the restaurant on New Year's Eve.
Mr. Antonacci was born the year his father, Francesco, opened the Como on Pine Avenue in Little Italy.
"We always said he was born into the restaurant business," said his son Frank R., of Lewiston.
Mr. Antonacci hosted many celebrities in the landmark restaurant. Sammy Davis Jr., Rocky Marciano, Steve Allen, Jack Lemmon and John Travolta were just a few who dined in the Como during engagements in the Buffalo Niagara area, and whose photographs fill the restaurant's walls.
A boxing enthusiast and historian, Mr. Antonacci was a big fan of Marciano, undefeated heavyweight champion from 1952 to 1956, and often watched him train in the Catskills. Marciano visited the restaurant several times. On one occasion, Mr. Antonacci ran home, put a boxing robe emblazoned with the words "The Champ" on his infant son and took him to the Como to meet the boxing hero.
"I don't remember it, of course, being only 6 months old, but Rocky was a god, and my father filmed the event," Frank Antonacci said.
"He was a great guy with a big heart," said Peter Stranges, 77, a lifelong friend and owner of the House of Wax Museum on Rainbow Boulevard South in the Falls.
Mr. Antonacci was known for taking Como patrons, famous and everyday alike, on tours of the restaurant, one of the largest in Western New York, with a staff of 120 running two dining rooms, three banquet halls, a bar, delicatessen and seating for 1,100 people.
"When he promised to do something, it might as well have been etched in stone," William D. Patti, 77, a retired Niagara Falls police officer and former investigator with the Niagara County district attorney's office, said of the friend he had known since kindergarten.
A lifelong city resident, Mr. Antonacci attended local schools. After joining the Army, he was stationed at Fort Knox, Ky., and Fort Dix, N.J., from 1945 until 1947.
Chess and pingpong were favorite pastimes. His pingpong prowess won him a city championship in the 1950s.
Mr. Antonacci's wife of 51 years, the former Theresa C. Formica, who worked in the restaurant, died in 2000.
In addition to his son, survivors include two other sons, Louis F. and Mario II, both of Lewiston; a daughter, Marion Bartley of Wheatfield; a sister, Adeline Colucci of Niagara Falls; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial was offered today in St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Burial was in Riverdale Cemetery, Lewiston.