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Anthony Gattuso dies at 86; Italian immigrant held many jobs, became star cook

Anthony Gattuso | Provided photo

Gathering his family together for meals was important to Anthony Gattuso, so his family will bring coffee and the cream-filled Italian pastries known as pasticiotti to Queen of Heaven Cemetery on Father’s Day.

They’ll meet at his mausoleum and talk about their patriarch, the star cook at the family restaurant, Paul’s Pizza & Hot Dogs in Westchester.

He loved having his children and grandchildren around him. In February, during his final days, around 30 relatives camped out with pillows and blankets at his North Riverside home to be close to him. Mr. Gattuso, who had lung cancer, died at 86.

“He used to say that was the happiest time of his life, because everybody was with him,” said his daughter Nancy Gattuso.

Anthony Gattuso (at top, with dark hair) on the boat that brought him to America in 1953. The seas were choppy, so the passengers frequently had to wear life jackets. | Provided photo
Anthony Gattuso (at top, with dark hair) on the boat that brought him to America in 1953. The seas were choppy, so the passengers frequently had to wear life jackets. | Provided photo

An immigrant from the small town of Valanidi in southernmost Italy, it took him two weeks by boat to get to America in 1953. High waves and seasickness were rampant. “They started putting ropes all over, saying if you go out, you’ve got to hang on,” his daughter said.

Among the ship’s passengers was another immigrant who was a talented vocalist. When the first-class passengers heard him singing, they asked him to entertain them.

But the singer had befriended young “Antonino” Gattuso, a fellow Calabrian.

“I’ll come on one condition,” the singer said, “if I can take my manager with me.”

“They got shipped up to first class,” said Mr. Gattuso’s daughter. “They got paid, too.”

Once in America, he sponsored the immigration of three of his nine siblings, several cousins and an in-law, who stayed with him until they could become independent.

His own father, Paul Gattuso, had traveled back and forth from Italy to the United States for work. “He was telling my dad, ‘Be your own boss, make your own business, there’s a lot of opportunities,’ ” his daughter said.

Anthony Gattuso and his wife Concetta. | Provided photo
Anthony Gattuso and his wife Concetta. | Provided photo

At 19, Mr. Gattuso saw his future wife Concetta, a town beauty, kneading dough in the Valanidi bakery. Within weeks, he proposed. They were married from 1951 until her death in 2016.

Her father had dual Italian-American citizenship, so she was able to immigrate first. She found them an apartment at Taylor and Oakley, signed them up for night school to learn English and landed a job for herself making soap at the Helene Curtis factory.

“My dad worked three jobs his entire life,” their daughter said. “I always remember him coming from one job and having a half hour’s rest and reading the paper. And then he’d go to the next job.”

By day, he was a carpenter and cabinet maker. He also did side jobs, plastering and laying concrete and tile. He built cabinets at Mount Sinai Hospital and did construction at the Cabrini-Green highrises.

Anthony and Concetta Gattuso. | Provided photo
Anthony and Concetta Gattuso. | Provided photo

In his final years, he helped at Paul’s Pizza & Hot Dogs, his son’s restaurant. He was still working there a week before he died.

Mr. Gattuso’s specialty was making the meatballs and Sunday gravy, simmering it for four hours to maximize flavor. He helped assemble big trays of mostaccioli for catering events. And he produced tantalizing stuffed artichokes. He also made his own capicola and salami.

“I think he would slice 120 loaves of bread in the morning,” his daughter said. “Then he’d start the spaghetti sauce. Then he’d start the eggplant parmesan.”

Mr. Gattuso was a self-appointed quality control supervisor. If the produce didn’t meet his high standards, he’d say, “You gotta take these back.’’

Young “Antonino” Gattuso. | Provided photo
Young “Antonino” Gattuso. | Provided photo

“He worked hard,” his daughter said, “but he had a good time, always singing and dancing.”

He loved decorating for Christmas. Mr. Gattuso crafted charming reindeer lawn decorations out of plywood and painted them white. They proved to be so popular, he made about 50 more for friends and relatives. “There was a whole herd in his garage,” his daughter said.

Mr. Gattuso liked a game of poker and enjoyed watching the Cubs. His favorite player was Ron Santo.

He told his kids and grandkids “Work hard. Family, never forget that – always stay together. If you can help somebody, always try to help.”

Anthony Gattuso and his daughter Nancy at a family wedding. She’s wearing a replica of the dress worn by the bride, her aunt. | Provided photo
Anthony Gattuso and his daughter Nancy at a family wedding. She’s wearing a replica of the dress worn by the bride, her aunt. | Provided photo

And, he said, “I don’t want to know how much you make. I want to know how much you save.”

Services have been held. In addition to his children Nancy and Paul, Mr. Gattuso is survived by his daughters Connie Bejlovec and Tina Russell; sons Anthony and Dominick; sisters Maria Minniti and Angelina Ambrogio; 14 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.