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Anthony J. Colicchia, aka 'Mister Pizza,' who expressed his love through food

Nov. 8, 1946 — June 18, 2018

Anthony J. Colicchia wasn't outwardly emotional.

But the dapper, silver-haired, Corvette-driving operator of Mister Pizza on Elmwood Avenue was quick to demonstrate his love and support with food — a lot of it.

Homeless people who approached the Mister Pizza counter would receive a slice or two on the spot. Mr. Colicchia was generous with food for St. Joseph's tables, Thanksgiving meals for the needy and events run by church groups, Scout troops and anyone raising money to pay medical bills or assist children or animals.

"He wouldn't go out of his way to show his feelings, but every time somebody passed, God forbid, or anytime there was an anniversary party for a business, he would always send his gratitude, always," said his friend Andrew D'Aloisio.

"He was very, very generous," said his lifelong friend, Paul "Hot Dog" Francoforte Jr.

Mr. Colicchia, known for always driving the latest model Corvette with "MRPIZZA" license plates, died Monday at age 71 after a long illness.

"A lot of people called him 'Mister Pizza,' " said his younger sister, Linda Franco. "He was a self-made man. He was single, with no children, and he ran that business like a tight ship. His workers would call him at home, at all hours, and that's the way he wanted it. He was very selective about the people he hired."

Born on the West Side, he was the first child of the late Frank and Anneliese Colicchia. After his mother died when he was 9, his father took him and his siblings, Frank Jr. and Linda, to live in their grandmother's house on 16th Street.

He was a 1964 honors graduate of Canisius High School, but college wasn't for him, so in 1967 he and Francoforte enlisted in the United States Army Reserve. They were assigned to the 365th Evacuation Hospital in Niagara Falls, where they started out as cooks, said Francoforte, then worked transporting and allocating rations. That was the first hands-on experience with food for Mr. Colicchia, who served in the reserves until 1973.

After returning to civilian life, Mr. Colicchia worked in construction for Laborers Local 210. Then, about 20 years ago, he purchased the well-known Mister Pizza business, a West Side fixture. He bought a former doughnut shop on Elmwood Avenue at Bird Avenue and fixed it up for the pizzeria.

"He told me he didn't have much to work with but some duct tape, hammer and nails," said D'Aloisio. "But he put it together."

Mr. Colicchia expanded the business from pizza to other foods. As his menu expanded, so apparently did his heart.

"In the beginning, it was a marketing thing, instead of advertising he would give to this or that," said D'Aloisio. "But then it became his way, his personality, to give things."

Many people borrowed money from him, and some never repaid, said his cousin, who grew up upstairs from Mr. Colicchia and his siblings and father. But that never deterred him from giving again.

"Even if he had a bad memory or unfortunate situation with the person, he would always, always give," said D'Aloisio. "Even if he said no at first, if you talked to him the next day, he wouldn't give in, but he would have changed his mind and feel like he wanted to help."

On the West Side, he was a well-known, dashing figure, driving a new Corvette every year.

"They were all colors, he had 62 or 63 of them through the years, he told me," said D'Aloisio.

He and D'Aloisio became close less than a year ago, at the Italian Festival, when Mr. Colicchia and friend stopped by a food truck operated by D'Aloisio's wife, Andrea, who owns Bada Bing. The two started talking and laughing over a dish of meatballs, "and then we just started talking every day since," said D'Aloisio.

Besides his friends, Mr. Colicchia was devoted to his family, said his sister. "He was the patriarch of our family," she said. "We ran everything by him, and he helped us so much it was amazing." Her children clamored for "Uncle Tony," and when her grandson was born, Mr. Colicchia sent a limo to the hospital to bring the newborn and his parents home in style, she said.

His personality was strong and dynamic, said Rita Colicchia. "When he walked in the room, everything stopped," she said. His motto was:"Get it done, and get it done now."

Yet under the demanding exterior was a soft heart, she said. "He did things for people and you would never even know he did them. He's going to be sorely missed."

He loved animals, donating food to fundraisers for rescue groups and shelters and taking in a cranky rescued chihuahua named Gianna. Although at first she refused to let him touch her and even nipped, he nicknamed her Monkey and eventually won her over. "He took her everywhere," said his cousin. "Now she sits on the back of the couch, waiting for him."

During his final hospitalization, in addition to his family, both D'Aloisio and Francoforte visited him daily.

He kept his final illness secret from most people, continuing to run the business through Linda Franco's son, Anthony Franco Sr., and valued employee Jill Kupczyk. "He didn't want anyone to know, because he didn't want anybody to feel sorry for him." said D'Aloisio. "He fought the good battle and he accepted at the end what was happening."

Besides his sister and cousin, he is survived by a niece and three other cousins.

A Mass of Christian Burial for Mr. Colicchia will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, Parkside and Parker avenues.

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