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Francesco Lonardo, 85, whose Bethpage restaurant served families, Grumman employees, dies

Francesco Lonardo, whose Bethpage restaurant served more than

Francesco Lonardo, whose Bethpage restaurant served more than 1 million meals to Grumman employees and local families for more than three decades, has died. He was 85.

Francesco Lonardo was remembered by his family for his quiet dignity and for the time he saved the life of a fellow soldier during the Korean War.

Former patrons of Francesco's Restaurant in Bethpage -- which Lonardo owned for more than three decades -- remembered something else about him: his chicken parmigiana.

"We heard a lot of stories about his chicken parmigiana in the last few days," Lonardo's son, Frank Lonardo Jr., said. "People would travel a long way for his chicken parmigiana -- longer than you would expect people to travel."

The elder Lonardo, whose restaurant served more than 1 million meals to families and Grumman employees for 34 years before he retired in 1995, died Friday at his Kings Park home from complications of dementia, his son said. He was 85.

Francesco John Lonardo was born in Brooklyn on Nov. 8, 1929, one of seven children. Lonardo's family moved to Franklin Square, and he graduated in 1947 from Sewanhaka High School, where he met his future wife, Marguerite Wunder.

Lonardo was an upholsterer for Peppait Brothers in Freeport before he was drafted into the Army in 1950. He and Wunder were married in Tennessee in November 1950, after he completed boot camp.

He earned a Bronze Star in Korea for pulling a wounded soldier to safety and getting him medical attention, Frank Lonardo said. He was honorably discharged in August 1951.

Frank Lonardo said his father later attended the New York City police academy, but he really wanted to work for himself and opened Francesco's in 1961. Lonardo and his wife worked together to get the restaurant started: He was the cook, "and she was everything else," their son said. Marguerite Lonardo died in 1997.

The family first lived in North Massapequa before moving to Huntington. Lonardo was active at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Roman Catholic Church in Melville, traveled to Italy with the Knights of Columbus and delivered food for Meals on Wheels.

"He was the type of person who did not have a lot of words, but he had a lot of substance," Frank Lonardo said.

In addition to his son, of Kings Park, Lonardo is survived by three daughters: Diane Johnson of Coram, Dorrine Lambert of Smithtown and Evelyn Necroto of upstate Slingerland; 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

A funeral Mass was celebrated Tuesday at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Kings Park. Burial was Tuesday at St. Charles Cemetery in East Farmingdale.

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