Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant spent last year thanking the community for supporting them for 50 years in business.
Now some of their friends and supporters have shown their appreciation for the Blasdell restaurant – on a billboard along Route 5.
But for several weeks, none of the DiPaolos knew who was responsible for the billboard, which thanks the DiPaolos for “making community family.”
The mystery started in December, after the congratulatory billboard with a large photo of Ilio DiPaolo went up between the Best Western Lackawanna and the Turnpike adult store, and the family started getting comments.
But the family didn’t know who was behind it, said Dennis DiPaolo.
So the restaurant went to social media, posting a photo of the billboard on its Facebook page Dec. 18 with this message:
“Have you seen the new billboard on Route 5? We don’t know who did this for us, but THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts! It means the world to us!!! The DiPaolo Family & Staff.”
The post got 560 likes, 100 shares and 64 comments, but no one ’fessed up.
“What the heck?” DiPaolo said. “Right then, we figured something’s up.”
It sure was. Even now, the ringleaders are circumspect about the billboard, who and how many people contributed to it.
But it was Katie Martin Appleford, a friend of the family, who wanted to do something for the 50th anniversary.
She was thinking of getting a fancy crystal wine bucket and having it engraved.
But she figured that would probably gather dust in a corner. Then she thought of something bigger, and more public.
“I don’t know when it popped into my head,” she said.
She said she asked people who attended the Celebrity Chef’s Culinary Extravaganza last October, which raised money for the Ilio DiPaolo Scholarship Fund.
“Everybody respects that family so much, and they do so much for the community,” Appleford said. “They’re constantly giving back to the community.”
Everyone she asked was enthusiastic about supporting the billboard. She also enlisted the help of family friends Danny Palumbo and Randy “Woody” Ribbeck. And there were countless others who heard about it after the fact who said they would gladly have helped out, she said.
“The purpose of the sign was to say this is how the community feels,” she said.
But it was also a lot of fun to see the DiPaolos ask everyone about the sign, she said. Dennis was particularly vexed.
“A couple friends called and said, ‘This is really driving him nuts,’ ” Appleford said.
But they held off until Christmas Day, when all was revealed at the family dinner.
“I’m pretty sure I talked to half of them personally,” DiPaolo said.
He took his mother, Ethel, over to the see the billboard, which is visible to motorists heading from Buffalo to Hamburg. Ethel DiPaolo, Ilio’s widow, just stood and stared at it, and started crying, he said. The family got together last weekend in a snowstorm, and got a group photo beneath it.
The community embraced Ethel and Ilio, a wrestler, when they came to Buffalo when he couldn’t speak English, DiPaolo said. And the feeling is mutual.
“It’s one of those wonderful things that goes on in Buffalo,” DiPaolo said of the billboard. “Thank God we live in this community.”