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Ivano Toscani, Anchor Bar general manager, dead at 68

Nov. 28, 1949 — Nov. 20, 2018

When Ivano Toscani first set foot in the Anchor Bar in 1974, it wasn’t to get an order of its famous chicken wings. He came to help the owner, Frank Bellissimo, brush up on his Italian.

In exchange for the language sessions, Bellissimo offered to teach him everything he knew about the restaurant business.

He worked side by side with Bellissimo for seven years. After Bellissimo died in 1980, his widow, Teressa, who fried up the Anchor Bar’s first wings in 1964, and his son, Dominic, urged Mr. Toscani to stay.

He went on to become general manager of the restaurant — and the public face of the Anchor Bar, following Dominic’s death in 1991.

Mr. Toscani took the national spotlight as part of a hometown wager when the Dallas Stars and the Buffalo Sabres met in the 1999 Stanley Cup finals. He fulfilled the bet after the Sabres lost by sending Anchor Bar wings to the Texas governor, George W. Bush. Five years later, he sent another order of wings to Bush in the White House.

He expanded the Anchor Bar’s legend by appearing on chicken wing showdowns on cable television cooking shows, bottling its trademark hot sauce and starting a string of franchises.

He died Tuesday following a long illness, restaurant management reported. He was 68.

"Those of us who were fortunate enough to know and work with Ivano have lost a dear friend and colleague whose spirit will forever be ingrained as part of Anchor Bar's history," said Mark Dempsey, vice president of the Anchor Bar Franchise and Development Company, in a statement.

Born in Milan, Italy, he grew up next door to a printing business and studied the trade at the Rissoli Printing School in Milan. Inducted into the Italian Army at 19, he was a rebellious soldier and often found himself behind bars.

Following his discharge, he returned to Milan to work as a printer and pursue his passion for riding motorcycles. On a trip with cycling friends to a resort island in the former Yugoslavia, he met a young woman from Buffalo named Annamaria.

They exchanged letters for two years and after they met again in Yugoslavia, he came to visit her in Buffalo. They were married in 1974.

He worked at a printing company and took night classes in English at the International Institute of Buffalo. It was an official at the Institute, who was a friend of Frank Bellissimo, who sent him to the Anchor Bar.

As general manager, Mr. Toscani was co-owner for many years with Dominic Bellissimo’s widow, Edith, and transformed the restaurant into a mecca for chicken wing lovers far and wide.

He built a new room that added 80 seats to the restaurant, filled walls with photos of celebrity customers and displayed license plates and motorcycles from his collection.

He burnished the Anchor Bar's legend as the birthplace of the Buffalo chicken wing and worked for more than a decade to establish a franchise plan.

Mr. Toscani was a third-degree member of the Knights of Columbus and known for his love of dogs.

Though he and his wife divorced in 1990, they remained friends.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

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