Continuing the business of restaurateur Cosimo DiBrizzi

Carlo Zithera pauses and takes a sip of water before recounting the murder of his late uncle, beloved regional restaurateur Cosimo DiBrizzi.

Sitera is a very friendly and cheerful guy. He exudes a sort of uncanny generosity and says he was born to work in the hospitality industry, loves the thrill of hospitality and really loves meeting people. But when it comes to the events of May 10, 2004, “Obviously I don’t like talking about it,” says Sitera, sitting in a corner booth at Cosimo’s Brick Oven in Poughkeepsie.

“I was here when they called me and said that something happened,” he says. He rushed to his uncle’s house in Newburgh, where he found “a cavalcade of policemen”. It was the worst nightmare imaginable: 64-year-old DiBrizzi and his 26-year-old son Nicholas were shot to death during a house robbery.

At the time of the shooting that rocked Newburgh, DiBrizzi was a prominent businessman in the Hudson Valley, owner of 45 pizzerias and stakes in the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel and Newburgh’s waterfront restaurant Torches on the Hudson. His affiliations included the Hudson Valley Food Bank and local chambers of commerce. He left his wife Angela, who was not injured during the robbery.

DiBrizzi was flown by helicopter to Westchester Medical Center, where he remained for three and a half months. The family spent every day at his bedside until he died on 30 August.

Nicholas survived his injuries and identified Dennis Sweeney in line after investigators tested the chewing gum found in the crime for DNA three years later and found a match with the document. Sweeney was serving time for car theft and was sentenced to life in prison four years after the murder.

Sweeney died in prison in 2012 while his case was pending. A quirk in New York State’s legal code resulted in his criminal record being expunged when he died – cases on appeal provide for the presumption of innocence for alleged perpetrators – adding insult to injury to the family’s trauma.

“It’s a devastation that’s hard to put into words,” says Sitera, who was in his early 40s when his uncle was killed. “The kids were dealing with PTSD and were just afraid that someone would come to your house and do something to someone you care about.”

Charity event in honor of DiBrizzi

The death of the family patriarch left a huge wound in their hearts and a legacy that the family swore to honor. A year after his death, they hosted Cosimo DiBrizzi’s first celebrity dinner at Cosimo’s. The annual event benefits a scholarship fund set up in his name that goes to local high school students planning to attend the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.

The fundraiser brings together business and public figures who wait on the tables to raise money for the fund, which is awarded twice a year: “It works,” says Citera, “usually there are about 20 ‘famous’ servers, and they compete during each course, to see who has the most dollars in tips, and by the end of the event, the winner is announced. The big excitement is how many people are involved and what organizations are supporting it.”

The 2022 event, held on April 6 at Poughkeepsie Cosimo’s, was attended by State Senator Sue Serino, Apap Painting’s George Apap, Adams Fairacre Farms’ David Okr and more. The event has raised over $100,000 since 2005, according to Citera. Typically, four to six students apply for a scholarship. The 2022 winners represented the Hudson Valley trading sector: Ross Trapani of RBT CPA, Cristina Fuscaldo-Albra of Atlantic Gutter Supply and Derrick Winkup of Walden Savings Bank.

“We didn’t have this event live for two years due to COVID,” Sitera says, “and we thought it would be smaller this year. But we had about 140 participants.”

The event turned into a regional hit and Citera says there have been several standout moments along the way. Celebrities dressed in costume once inspired the classic sitcom Alice, set in Mel’s fictional diner. The following year, the servers paid tribute to Happy Days, where Al’s diner was the centerpiece of this iconic TV show.

Family business development

Today there are Cosimo restaurants in Poughkeepsie, Middletown, Woodbury and Newburgh. Pizza has always been a priority since DiBrizzi opened his first U.S. restaurant, Mama Brava, in New Paltz in 1972, but before it evolved into a region-focused, wood-fired business model in the 1990s. , Cosimo’s was giving Sbarros a shot at success. cut money with dozens of pizzerias in malls.

“From the mid-80s to the mid-90s, we opened over 60 locations in over 16 states,” Sitera recalls.

But in 1993, Carlo’s brother Nick opened Cosimo’s on Union in Newburgh and began offering wood-fired pizzas. The flagship was revamped and relaunched in early 2022 with a new menu that other Cosimos will eventually adopt.

The biggest surprise for Citera when he joined the family business was that the malls were left behind. Cosimo’s opened 10 to 12 stores a year during its peak years in malls. But “shopping malls are a difficult place to do business,” Sitera says. “It’s a 10-year lease, and when the lease expires, you may be gone.” And by 1993, the overhead of opening a stand-alone full-service restaurant in Newburgh was at the level of a small mall. And so the turning began.

The move to pizza in a high-temperature brick oven was also inspired by the famed trio of thin-crust, charcoal-fired, and wood-fired pizzerias in New Haven, Conn. — Sally’s, Frank Pepe’s, and Modern Apizza, owned by Pizza Cognoscenti, says Citera. country.

New Haven and the Hudson Valley are home to significant communities of Italian American immigrants; Sitera’s uncle was born in Tejano, in the Campania region of southern Italy, and moved to the Hudson Valley from Montreal in the mid-1960s. Sitera was born in Montreal and raised in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood. His family moved to the Hudson Valley in 1976.

Cythera was a CIA operative and says their family has close ties to a well-known culinary school. “We have developed long-term friendships with some culinary chefs,” he says, including CIA administrator Victor Gelisse and the late Rudy Speckamp.

When not enjoying family meals, he prefers sushi from Akari or Bonsai located in Poughkeepsie, and he is also a fan of “little hideaways” such as End Cut in Esopus. He also speaks highly of another CIA alumnus, Kevin Halim, who runs Kelly’s Bakery, located next door to Poughkeepsie Cosimo’s in a family-owned commercial complex.

“He is one of our tenants and the local community is really supportive of him,” Sitera says. “When they’re open, there’s always a line at the door.”

The family’s business model has expanded to include real estate, as well as catering services and Nathan’s and Soup Man franchises.

All this would not have been possible without the driving force of the patriarch of the family, Cosimo DiBrizzi.

“He was a one of a kind person,” Cythera says, “a kind, generous, down to earth and very modest guy, but someone who extended a helping hand and helped everyone around, gave the homeless people work, things. like this. He ran his company with passion and love for his employees for what they did and how they did it. His family and his business are two things that mattered to my uncle.”

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