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  • Aurelio's Pizza founder dead at 69

CHICAGO -- Joseph A. Aurelio Jr., 69, founder of the 28-store Aurelio's Pizza chain, died of congestive heart failure on Dec. 18, in Blue Island, Ill., a suburb of Chicago.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Aurelio opened his first pizzeria in 1959, which had four tables served by one waitress. In 1977, he moved his business to an abandoned warehouse, and turned it into a 650-seat restaurant. He later franchised 27 more restaurants scattered throughout Illinois and the upper-Midwest.

"People told him he was crazy: 'What are you buying a warehouse for? You'll never fill it,' " Aurelio's son, Joey, told the Tribune. "For the first 10 years we had a line out the door, and they learned he wasn't so crazy."

One of Aurelio's Pizza's competitors, Joe Sanfrantello, Sr., owner of Sanfrantello's Pizza, spoke kindly of his old rival.

"I really admired the guy," he said. "He was a pioneer of the family-style pizza restaurant."

A dedicated restaurateur, Aurelio was at the business every day, but the strain resulted in six heart attacks and multiple surgeries.

Friends said he was humble about his restaurants' success, but talkative, feisty and opinionated about most all issues.

He was active in his community, serving on multiple boards of charitable organizations.

He is survived by his ex-wife and business partner, Ann Stevens, son Joey, and three daughters, Lori Nagela, Amy Aurelio-Kaminski and Susan; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

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