Pizza whiz dies from cancer at 76

Vito Nicola Parente was a first-generation immigrant  from Mola di Bari on Italy’s south coast who served the “best pizza around” to hungry Evergreen Park residents for over 30 years at his restaurant, Rosangelo’s, better known as Rosie’s.

Known to friends, family and customers alike as Nick, Parente immigrated to the United States as a teenager in the 1940s with a strong work ethic, borne of a desire to help his family back home.

In 1955, long before pizza was the popular food it is today, he opened Rosie’s at 2807 West 95th St., serving authentic Italian thin-crust pizza. Rosie’s,quickly established itself, with Parente sponsoring countless youth sports teams and local events.

Parente died Tuesday after a battle with cancer. He was 76.

Because Rosie’s was across from the Drury Lane Theater, it became a favorite with some of the actors who performed there. Mickey Rooney — starring in a production of “A Christmas Carol” — became buddies with Parente, even getting behind the counter to help out in the kitchen on one occasion.

Parente’s pizza recipe — a secret so closely guarded that he only shared it with his family last year — came as naturally to him as his obvious love of life.

“He didn’t measure things in cups,” his daughter Marina Weis said, “it was, ‘a handful of this, a handful of that.’ “

Though not a critic of Chicago-style pan pizza, Parente believed a traditional thin-crust pizza, made with the finest ingredients, had more flavor.

“He said you should get the crunch of the thin crust first, then the toppings, but with pan pizza you just taste bread and then the sauce,” Weis said.

Despite his involvement in community and family life and his belief in the American dream, Parente never lost his love for his homeland — a feeling he passed on to his five children, two stepchildren and 16 grandchildren.

He retained his strong Italian accent and love of soccer, boating and fishing. Pining for the sea,  Parente moved to Florida when he retired in 1990.

Even in Florida, there were former Evergreen Park residents who remembered his pizza, his daughter said.

Despite a painful battle with cancer, he fulfilled his final wish by returning to Italy last year where he was doted on by relatives.

“Nick was passionate about everything he did, including making a meal, working, storytelling, hosting, laughing, making people laugh, teaching, fishing and loving,” his grandson Matt Weis said. “He did all of these things with perfection as a great artist would paint his masterpiece.”