I am writing this with a heavy heart.
Sadly we lost one of the true Pizza Legends, yesterday. My friend Gary Bimonte, grandson of Frank Pepe, passed away.
Gary was fun, intelligent, generous, and compassionate.
I met Gary a number of years ago, while he was working at Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana on Wooster Street in New Haven. Gary was always forthcoming and generous to me and my family each time we visited. We started a pizza conversation that lasted for a number of years.
I was able to learn much about him and his family through our conversations. He literally grew up in the Pizza Business at Pepe’s. He learned all the ins and outs, from prep to clean up. He was able to discover the heart and soul of pizza through his grandfather Frank Pepe. Frank was an immigrant from Italy and started the Pizza Business in 1925. He taught his nephew, Salvatore Consiglio who would later start Sally’s Apizza right up the street. Frank was a generous and caring pizza maker who was definitely old school.
Although Gary was quite young when his grandfather passed, he was able to carry on the tradition with his mom, Aunt, and cousins. Gary learned to make pizza and became a master. I recorded our conversations and released a CD called “The Legends of Pizza, Volume 1”., which is currently out of print. Also on this CD were other Legends: Peter Reinhart, noted bread and pizza maker as well as Chris Bianco, of Pizzeria Bianco.
Over the years, I was able to speak formally and informally with Gary, about pizza, life, and the expansion of Pepe’s. As a matter of fact, during my earliest conversations with Gary, Pepe’s was not taking credit cards as payment. He explained to me that he hoped to pass on the legacy of Frank Pepe and Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria. This was done with the family agreement, by turning Pepe’s into a corporation and expanding their locations. There are now over 11 locations in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Let’s just say he was able to do this and more.
As you can imagine, there is a lot of work making pizza day in and day out. During the last few years, Gary was able to retire and step back a bit. He became the face of Pepe’s and did lots of interviews and appearances. Through it all, he kept the vision of his grandfather alive. And helped to perpetuate Pepe’s Legacy.
I had been in touch with Gary, explaining I wanted to do more interviews and pizza discussions. He was always ready to help me, but sadly, that will not happen anymore.
So, I raise a slice in praise of my friend, Gary. And the caring, dedicated life he led. He was a good man and he will be missed.
I can only say, thank you, Gary, for all you have done for me and the world of pizza. The lesson for me is this: take care of each other. Be kind and generous. Treat everyone you know with love and respect. And help others in need when you can.
For me, one of my greatest memories of Pepe’s is ordering the clam pie. This was invented quite an by accident by Frank Pepe. This pizza has become world-famous and is a pizza I dream about. Below is an interview I did with Gary, many years ago. The video is not that good, but the message lives on. The video is: “How Frank Pepe Invented the Clam Pizza”.
I wish you well and all the best in your pizza adventures. Take care, and take care of each other.