WALLINGFORD — A town resident and co-owner of an internationally-renowned New Haven pizza restaurant visited by presidents, celebrities and star athletes has died.
Gary Bimonte, one of the owners of Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana on Wooster Street in New Haven, passed away from a heart attack at his Wallingford home Wednesday night, according to several news outlets.
A notice posted on the restaurant’s website conveyed the sad news on Thursday.
“Gary was a wonderful brother, son, uncle, and friend to so many, and he was loved by all of us,” the notice reads. “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.”
Among the first to express sympathy was New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker:
“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,” Elicker said in a statement released by the mayor’s office. “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.”
Along with rival Sally’s Pizza, Pepe’s has been part of an iconic pizza duo for decades and a prime motivator for a recent effort by the state legislature to make pizza the official state dish.
President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Sen. Hilary Clinton, actors Robert DiNiro, Ernest Borgnine, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Henry Winkler, Rob Reiner, Danny DeVito, Robert Duvall and baseball’s Yogi Berra are among the millions who have stood in line to chow down on Pepe’s long list of exotic pizzas.
The fascination with the famous comfort food extended so far as to lead to endless speculation as to what made Pepe’s pizza so good. Was it the thin crust? The bricks in the oven? A secret recipe?
A 2014 ranking by The Daily Meal of the 101 best pizzas in America put Pepe's at the top of its list.
Bimonte was, according to a 2015 article in the online magazine eater.com, the most enduring face of the restaurant: "There's nobody in the company that has more consecutive years than me," he said in the story.
Bimonte was among the family members who inherited the business from their grandfather, who started it 96 years before.
“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,” according to the webpage notice. “He will be terribly missed by so many people.”
The family is requesting privacy during this time of grieving. The New Haven location was closed on Thursday.