Joe's Italian founder ‘Papa Joe' passes away

Joe's Italian founder ‘Papa Joe' passes away

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"Papa Joe," founder of Joe's Italian in Alabaster, passed away Wednesday night. Source: Family photo/WBRC video "Papa Joe," founder of Joe's Italian in Alabaster, passed away Wednesday night. Source: Family photo/WBRC video
ALABASTER, AL (WBRC) -

The owner of a popular Italian restaurant in Shelby County has died. "Papa Joe," the beloved founder of Joe's Italian, passed away from a heart attack Wednesday night.

Joe's Italian restaurant was closed Thursday, but a small memorial was set up outside the store for Papa Joe, whose real name was Giuseppe Bertolone.

On Thursday, a steady stream of people came by to reflect, leave their thoughts and small mementos at the memorial. Joe's Italian invited the public to come by the memorial in a Facebook post written Thursday:

"We would like to welcome everyone to stop by the restaurant and sign Papa Joe's journal. We have set up a memorial stand out front of the restaurant--feel free to stop by and leave your message for Papa and the family."

Bertolone opened up his restaurant in a quiet Alabaster neighborhood in 2008 after moving to Alabama from California, where he started the original Joe's Italian.

It was truly a family business. His children helped run the store and his wife cooked the desserts, and Papa was always there to welcome and greet you.

"I was here yesterday…and when I walked in, as always, he said, ‘Hi Momma' because of my gray hair and I went over and got my hug," customer Virginia Dyer said.

Last night, Bertolone suffered a major heart attack at the restaurant and later died. His death came as a shock to everyone. Folks say they are just heartbroken by his loss and he will be sorely missed.

Customer Tanya Fuller described Papa Joe as very caring and loving.

"As soon as you walk in, you can see him. So yeah, he'll be very missed," Fuller said.

Dozens of people wrote out their condolences online on the Joe's Italian Facebook page, describing happy memories of the restaurant and Papa Joe's vital presence and big smile.

Papa Joe leaves behind a wife, two daughters and a son. The family has announced funeral arrangements for Papa Joe:

Monday, March 11: Viewing from 6-8 p.m. at Southern Heritage Funeral Home, located on Highway 119 in Pelham.

Tuesday, March 12: Memorial Service at 2 p.m. at St. Thomas, located on Highway 119 in Montevallo.

Joe's Italian will be closed Monday and Tuesday for services and will be open from 3-9 p.m. Friday, March 8 and Saturday, March 9.

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