Giovanni Donancricchia was not only a top-notch pizza chef whose food was featured on national and local television shows, he also was a loving Italian immigrant father who worked long hours at his Cicero restaurant to support his wife and three children, his family said.
"He never missed a day of work and sent all his kids to college," said his son, Saverio Donancricchia. "Everything he did was for us."
Early Thursday, soon after closing Albano's Pizzeria for the night, Donancricchia, 64, of River Grove, was shot to death inside his establishment in an apparent robbery, Cicero police said. The well-liked, longtime neighborhood businessman, who would provide pizza slices on credit, was pronounced dead at the scene at 12:56 a.m.
Saverio, 35, said his father and mother, Angela, 62, had closed the restaurant in the 5900 block of West Roosevelt Road around midnight and locked the front door. Saverio said his mother told him that the gunman came in the back door and snuck up behind her before putting a gun to her head.
He said that while his mother attempted to open the cash register, Giovanni, who had been in a walk-in cooler, came running from the back of the restaurant. His mother screamed, "Give him what he wants," the son said.
"My father told my mom to go outside and call the police," Saverio said. "She ran out the back door and heard a gunshot about 30 seconds later. She found my dad on the floor. She saw the man run out the back door and through the alley."
Saverio said he believes the man emptied the cash register, but he added that there were only singles and change in there. Cicero police were investigating, and no arrests had been made. Saverio said a surveillance camera was operating.
"We are confident we will find the person," Cicero spokesman Ray Hanania said.
A makeshift memorial was set up near the entrance of the restaurant Thursday and included a wooden cross, a candle and several stuffed animals.
Saverio Donancricchia said his father and mother immigrated into the United States from Palermo in the late 1960s but didn't meet until after they arrived here. The couple also has two daughters, ages 40 and 34.
He said relatives in Italy were planning to travel to the U.S. to be with the family.
"It's been really hard on my mom," he said.
Giovanni Donancricchia had been in the restaurant business for 25 years. Saverio said his dad bought the restaurant and kept the name Albano's.
"He was nonstop busy," Saverio said.
Giovanni and his restaurant were featured on the Travel Channel's "Chowdown Countdown" and on "Chicago's Best," which airs on WGN-TV and CLTV.
Saverio said his father was known for his giant pizza puff, a favorite among patrons.
He said his father, who also had six grandchildren, loved his customers.
"That's why he stayed there," he said.
The restaurant sits about 35 people. It also handles carry-out orders and serves dishes such as Italian beef.
A nearby building owner, Mark, who didn't want to give his last name, described Donancricchia as "a supernice guy."
"If I didn't have money, he would give me a slice of pizza, and then tell me to pay later," Mark said. "It's sad and makes me very upset."
Cynthia Salvino, a Cicero town employee, said the food at Albano's is "marvelous" and drew people from Chicago and other suburbs, as well as Cicero.
Saverio said that although crime was a problem in the neighborhood in recent years and only a few businesses remain on the block, his family felt relatively safe because many police officers ate at the restaurant, which is along the Cicero-Chicago border.
John Johnson, owner of Classy Ladies Beauty Supplies across the street in Chicago, said he was upset to hear about Donancricchia. He said the neighborhood is so dangerous that it prompted him to install a door buzzer on his business.
"Crime happens here all the time," Johnson said. "We have to do what you can to protect ourselves around here."
Hanania said the area has a good police presence.
"This is kind of unusual for something like this to happen (in Cicero)," he said. "The crime increases greatly when you cross the street into Chicago. We think the problems are coming from there."
Chicago police spokesman Adam Collins said, "We have officers on routine patrols in the area and we have been in touch with Cicero police regarding the murder."Copyright © 2015, CT Now