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Patriarch of Pasta Cafe passes away

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From left, children Milania Buonaiuto, Kevin Price III, Evelyn Zammitto and Andrew Zammitto IV spend time with their grandparents, Yvonne and Andre Buonaiuto. Buonaiuto’s daughter Alexis, not pictured, reflected on her father’s 33 years of restaurant work saying his job was to “kiss the ladies and hold the babies.” (Submitted Photo)

Andre Buonaiuto, a New Yorker known for bringing a taste of Italy to Roswell, left behind his family and friends after experiencing a heart attack as he was getting ready for work on Jan. 14.

Described as a large personality and dedicated to his family and his friends, Buonaiuto, 63, was well-known in Roswell for his previous ownership of Pasta Cafe and Cattleman’s Kountry Kitchen. The first Pasta Cafe was opened in 1993 and the Pasta Cafe franchise was transferred to Cattle Baron Corporation in 2008, according to Alexis Buonaiuto, Buonaiuto’s daughter.

According to his obituary, Buonaiuto was born on June 20, 1955 to Andrea and Elizabeth Buonaiuto in Flushing, New York, and leaves behind his wife Yvonne, three daughters and an extended family. Buonaiuto’s funeral rites were Jan. 18 and concluded with interment in Long Island City, New York.

Pasta Cafe’s patriarch

Reflecting on her father’s life, Alexis Buonaiuto said he had 33 years of experience in the restaurant industry and in that time built 16 restaurants, owned seven, developed one overseas, and had developed and operated four in Arizona. Alexis Buonaiuto described her parents, Andre and Yvonne, as “the perfect dynamic duo,” and they were a successful team until his death.

Prior to his passing, Alexis said her father was working for Maggiore Group as the operations and construction manager for the four restaurants in Arizona. She said he worked right up until the end by confirming meetings the morning of Jan. 14.

“My dad was in the front of house and my mother was in the back of house,” Alexis Buonaiuto said of Pasta Cafe. “She did what she did best — she cooked and created dishes and recipes which diverted from her family … My mother being of Sicilian descent and my father being of Italian descent — my mother was kind of the mastermind behind the recipes and my father, as he called it, he would ‘hold the babies and kiss the ladies.’ He did it well.”

Alexis Buonaiuto shared with the Daily Record that her family moved to Roswell in 1990 following her uncle and aunt, Jeff Wilson and Michelle Wilson, who had three restaurants as part of the Cattle Baron Corporation.

After the first Pasta Cafe opened, Alexis said three more Pasta Cafes opened in Carlsbad, Ruidoso and Rio Rancho by 2007. Lox, Stock and Bagel shop was another Buonaiuto restaurant, a collaboration with Yvonne and her parents. Once Pasta Cafe became part of Cattle Baron Corporation, Alexis Buonaiuto said her father took over Cattleman’s in 2009. In 2013, Alexis said she and her father opened up Carmine’s as “a father-daughter venture.”

Tom Jennings, former mayor of Roswell and a friend of Buonaiuto’s, reflected on Buonaiuto bringing Pasta Cafe to Roswell in the early 90s.

Jennings said Buonaiuto created some “friendly competition” in the restaurant business and “brought the New York Italian food influence to Roswell” in the form of a family and fine dining restaurant.

Dana Dryden Beck, former wife of previous Daily Record Publisher Cory Beck, has been a friend of the Buonaiuto family for more than 30 years. Dryden Beck described Buonaiuto as having “enormous presence and larger-than-life personality” and as an “unforgettable person.”

Noting that New Yorkers and Italians were uncommon in Roswell, Dryden Beck said Buonaiuto brought his presence, as well as the culture and food. As far as the food itself, she remembered that many community members were “addicted” to the homemade menu of Pasta Cafe.

“Andre (Buonaiuto) brought to us his Italian family and he included us in it …” Dryden Beck said of Buonaiuto’s contribution to Roswell.

Of his recent passing, Dryden Beck said: “Yvonne has lost her best friend and the Yankees have lost their biggest fan.” She said she saw the couple right before the holidays and they “never looked better.”

Mary Macias, Daily Record employee and former childcare provider for the Buonaiuto family after 1996, shared numerous instances of Buonaiuto’s acts of kindness, from letting her wear a rare 1927 World Series Yankees jacket on a cold night home, to providing food and drink to a stranded family from out of town, whose car broke down near the mall. She said both Andre and Yvonne always made her feel included in the family and loved.

Macias said Buonaiuto “brought life to the Roswell Mall” with his favorite musician, Frank Sinatra, and other Italian music played at the restaurant’s first location at 4501 N. Main St. Recalling his friendliness, Macias said Buonaiuto would smile and wave to passersby at the mall even if the restaurant was busy, and made it a point to remember customers’ names.

“He was an amazing person and he had a heart of gold and you could tell he loved life by the way he treated people, because he was good to them,” Macias said.

Post-Roswell

After 2013, Alexis Buonaiuto said, her parents decided to retire. Coming out of retirement after one year, she said her parents went to Dubai for two years and “created, developed and operated” Stars N Bars, a concept comparable to the Cheesecake Factory. She said the restaurant is still open today.

Following Dubai, Alexis Buonaiuto said her parents returned to New York last summer and opened a seasonal summer seafood restaurant in their hometown in partnership with family. She compared her parents to “snowbirds,” since they lived in New York from April to September and migrated to Phoenix during the rest of the year.

Alexis Buonaiuto said her parents had been living in Phoenix for almost two years and planned to stay for the next five years.

“Although we were born in and came from New York, my father, my mother — they both — we’ve all moved on, my aunts and uncles, we’ve all moved to different states and moved out of Roswell,” she said. “My parents, my family will always have a profound respect for Roswell and we will forever consider it our hometown because it gave us a good life — and Dad always reminded us of that. He loved the people in Roswell. He loved what Roswell had to offer. He loved the community. He loved the potential that Roswell had and he met some of his very best friends in Roswell, New Mexico, so it will always be forever dear in our hearts.”

Beyond the restaurant

Aside from his restaurant work, Dryden Beck reflected that Buonaiuto was also contractor and former mortician, as well as a generous man and proud father. Dryden Beck’s son, Stephen Foster, was murdered in 2010, killed by a gunshot wound, and she said — though Buonaiuto’s mortician career had ended — Buonaiuto offered to work on her son’s face to allow the family to have an open casket funeral.

“So he stepped out of his restaurateur role for an evening and fixed my son’s face,” Beck said. “Could you imagine that? That’s the kind of person (he was) to me, that’s how close I was to him — and how much I loved him.”

She said she suspects Buonaiuto offered many acts of kindness, without taking credit or sharing the stories with others.

“Andre was an American success story and deeply interested in good public policy, especially as it affected Roswell and our state,” Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson wrote to the Daily Record. “I will miss his cheerfulness and optimism.”

On a personal note, Jennings said Buonaiuto was also an athlete who played basketball at Syracuse University. Jennings laughed and said he couldn’t share some of his favorite memories with Buonaiuto to be printed.

“There was no gray area with Andre,” Alexis Buonaiuto said of her father. “I feel like people either loved him or hated him — but I think the ones that didn’t like him, it was like you loved to hate him, hate to love him kind of guy.”

Macias said the Buonaiutos were participants in the Summer Soirée with the Roswell Chamber of Commerce and were active in fundraising around the community. Macias said the couple also supported educational experiences, for students to learn about the restaurant business. Macias said she will miss the stories Buonaiuto would share in an enthusiastic way with animated expressions.

“Andre showed kindness with his caring ways sometimes with a little joke, a funny story or gentle words of praise, with warm hug, his friendly smile — what a difference — somehow he can make an ordinary day seem so worthwhile,” Macias said.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.