Restaurant owner 'put everybody else first'
CHAMPAIGN – It didn't matter what day of the week it was, Betty Buttitta was there at the front to welcome you into Dom's Patio Villa.
So the experience won't be the same for regular Bob Swisher of Urbana, who usually orders Breast of Chicken a la Dom in the restaurant started by the late Dominic Buttitta.
Mrs. Buttitta, 85, of Champaign died at 9:35 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 29, 2007) at home.
"I'm going to miss her," Swisher said, but that won't stop him coming back for the traditional Italian fare.
Business and family have been inseparable for four decades at the brick, stronghouse building on Locust Street.
Dominic Buttitta, a bricklayer, built his own building after almost 25 years in a much smaller, standing-room-only place a block away, made visible by "Hamm's Beer" and "Steak" neon signs.
Dom was of Sicilian stock, but his bride was of English and German heritage.
Mrs. Buttitta was born May 12, 1922, in Champaign, a daughter of John and Alzeda Hale Gepner.
She married Dominic Buttitta on Sept. 7, 1938, in Covington, Ind.
Survivors include two daughters, Kay Buttitta Glenn of Tampa, Fla., and Elizabeth Kyburz of Chesterfield, Mo.; three sons, David Buttitta and John Buttitta, both of Champaign, and Jeff Buttitta of Fishers, Ind.; 17 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.
All the Buttittas worked for the restaurant at one time, said John Buttitta, who has run the restaurant with his mother since 1995, when Dom passed away.
Swisher recalls that love him/hate him Indiana coach Bobby Knight was a regular when his team was visiting, and Billy Packer showed up when he was calling games.
"It has a good reputation with people in town and out of town," Swisher says.
The restaurant features many creations of Dom Buttitta, such as Chicken Galena and Breast of Chicken a la Dom. But Betty Buttitta was the genius behind the cannoli, and made all of the dressings, her son said.
John, who started working at the restaurant when he was 14 and created the Chicken Neapolitan, said his mother also contributed the lasagna recipe still used.
"She did all the decorating. She worked every day," he said.
From the kitchen, she watched over her family and workers she treated like family.
"My mom always put everybody else first. She never thought about herself – sometimes I felt like her heart was too big," he said.
John, who has no intention of closing the restaurant, said his mother was religious, but also "for her the restaurant was church."
"There are so many restaurants in Champaign, but we have a good customer base, and a lot of that was her. She was at the restaurant seven days a week, and through that she knew a lot of people," he said.
Mrs. Buttitta's best friend, sister-in-law Mary Gentille, called her "a saint."
"She's my rock ... a wonderful person who never complained about nothing, never talked bad about anybody," Gentille said.
She said Mrs. Buttitta loved flowers and crafts, and often traveled with her. They visited each other every day.
But work was never out of the picture, Gentille said:
"She was a workaholic; she kept that restaurant going and worked her butt off. Such a wonderful person!"