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ISSUE 121 VOL 1 PUBLISHED 9/21/2007

Basil's Pizza reopens after family death

By Barrett Kennedy
Sports Editor

Friday, September 21, 2007

Basil's Pizza reopened Wednesday, Sept. 12, after being closed for nearly one week following the unexpected death of 32-year-old Ioannis "John" Pitsavas, owner and operator of the pizzeria. He died Thursday, Sept. 6, after losing control of his car heading southbound on Interstate 35 in Lakeville.

John's older brother Dmitri Pitsavas '95 returned to the United States from Greece on Aug. 16 to help John co-manage the pizzeria. Instead, he reopened the restaurant on Wednesday, uncertain about Basil's short-term daily business hours, and its long-term future as a business.

The impact of John's death makes it difficult to consider specifics about business right now, said Dmitri. Despite the family's tragedy, Basil's is attempting to continue its daily business just as it has for 47 years.

"Staying open helps make time pass for our family," said Dmitri, "But it has been weird being [in the restaurant] these last four or five days. It's up to me, my sister and my family to decide where to go from here."

The restaurant has been a foundation for the entire Pitsavas family since Dmitri's father, Bill Pitsavas, opened Bill's Pizza in 1960. Bill's Pizza operated in the same building that Basil's Pizza currently occupies. The name changed to Basil's when John Pitsavas took over the restaurant in 2002 for his retired father.

Bill Pitsavas immigrated to the United States in 1956 and settled in Northfield because of the two colleges and the small-town atmosphere, "not just for a great environment for the family he hoped to raise, but for the pizzeria, too," said Dmitri.

The Pitsavas bond at Basil's Pizza extended beyond Bill's immediate family of his sons John and Dmitri, and his daughter Alexandra who has also helped with the work.

Two of Dmitri's cousins got their start in the restaurant business working at Basil's years ago. Now one owns B&L's Pizza and the other owns George's Vineyard. Once they had their roots in Northfield from working at Basil's, the cousins branched out and opened their own pizzerias, said Dmitri.

"In all, 19 of my father's relatives came here from Greece," said Dmitri Pitsavas. "His family owns restaurants as far as Owatonna and Eau Claire, all starting here at Basil's. None of us would want this place to close because of what it means to us and to the town."

Beth Fiebelkorn '08, a summer Basil's employee, reiterated Basil's longevity and importance throughout its years in Northfield. "An older couple would come in while visiting Northfield and remember Basil's Pizza from their college years," said Fiebelkorn. "Almost every day I was asked if this place used to be called Bill's."

Yet, Basil's remains a steady force for regulars and the larger community,. "We're staying open right now because of the meaning behind Basil's, not just the food but the history, too," said Pitsavas. "It's a story, it's my father's story. I don't think we could ever just let Basil's evaporate."

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