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October 1995

A Friend for All Reasons

by Kim BALCERZAK

   

How do you measure a man’s worth? Do you look at his bank account or the quantity and quality of his material things?
    Do you factor in his occupation, or his stature in the business community? Is the size and location of his residence important?
    If you ask Lou Billittier, of Chef’s Restaurant in Buffalo, it’s not about how much you have. It’s about how much you give back to the community you love.
    And in his case, Lou Billittier is truly one of Western New York’s “richest” men.
    Many of us know him as the smiling face and driving force behind one of Buffalo’s most successful and popular restaurants.
    Once the spaghetti parmesan has been served, he takes on another, more rewarding role - that of civic and charity leader.
    “It’s a great feeling to help those people that you don’t even know,” Lou said. “I think that’s the joy of it. I just get a real kick out of it.”
    His devotion to community service began many moons ago when he was a member of the Lake Shore Lions Club.
    From there, he became involved with Clark Colony, now known as the Clark Developmental Center. Their work with the mentally handicapped had a profound effect him.

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Lou Billitier as Variety Club telethon chairman two years ago.


    “We (Lou and wife Ann) had lost two children,” he explained. “The loss was tremendous. We decided to turn our grief into something positive, and give something back to the community.”
    “I took a tour of the Craig facility with the director. When I saw the work that the staff did for the mentally handicapped, I knew I had to do something to make their lives as comfortable and fulfilling as possible.”
    And so began a lifetime of community service. His efforts soon expanded.
    He was asked to join the board of the State Association for Mentally Retarded Children.
    He now serves as its site selection chairman.
    Then, the Association of the Boards of Visitors New York State Facilities for the Menatlly Retarded, asked him to serve on their board. He’s been their treasurer for the past decade.
    Throughout his charity work, Lou Billittier has always placed the needs of children first.
    Some of his most notable accomplishments have been with the Muscular Dystrophy Asso-ciation and, his favorite, the Variety Club which benefits Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.
    “The work that Children’s Hospital does is great,” Lou said. “I don’t think there’s another hospital in the country that can touch it.”
    Lou, who wishes there were more hours in the day, admits that there is still much work that needs to be done to help local charitable organizations.
    “A lot of charities are getting cut back in terms of the dollars they get from government agencies,” he said. “We have to depend on the residents and the corporations to help provide the funds that are desperately needed to provide extra programming.”
    No one is immune to Lou’s sense of civic duty.
    The whole family gets involved - his wife Ann, daughter Mary Beth, his son Louie John and daughter-in-law Peggy, and his grandchildren Ashley and Michael.
    The Billittier family wouldn’t have it any other way.
   

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Ann and Lou Billittier.


    “You know the old saying,” Lou said. “Those that pray together, stay together. I think there’s a lot to that.”
    His family can often be seen beside him, pitching in at various charity events. Ann and Mary Beth get involved in charitable projects of their own.
    For Lou, this illustrates the family devotion that all the Billittier’s have for one another.
    “Family is very important to me,” he said. “Even though we’re all busy, Sundays is our day to get together, have dinner, talk about what’s new, reminisce, and just have fun.”
To say that the Billittier’s are busy is an understatement.
Mary Beth has taken over the reigns of Chef’s Restaurant, running the establishment with the same work ethic as her father.
Louie John is an officer with the Hamburg Police Department.
And, Ann has her hands full doing what’s needed, wherever it may be.
“Ann is just super,” Lou said. “It takes a great lady to let a guy do all the things I’ve been involved with. She’s the love of my life. We’re very happy.”
You could say that Lou and Ann were destined to be together.
“We were in grammar school together,” Lou fondly recalled. “I remember putting her pigtails in the inkwell at school. I remember getting in trouble with the teacher for it, too.”
They went from grammar school to high school, to going out, to finally getting married and raising a family.
    They even worked together in the early days at Chef’s.
    “We’ve been married for 44 wonderful years. And, no matter what happened with the business or our charities, she’s always been by my side. I’d be lost without her. We all would.”
    That’s not just the talk of a man hopelessly in love with his wife. It’s the talk of a man who appreciates the support and assistance of his lifetime partner.
    On the day of this interview, Ann was out picking up fresh fruit for use in the restaurant.
    On any occasion, you can find her making personal trips to local farmers, selecting the best of their harvests for Chef’s - like fresh basil for their pesto sauce.
    “Annie is good at everything,” Lou said with a smile. “She even takes the time to lay out my clothes for me just about every day. That’s good, because I can’t seem to make matches very well.”
    “People can tell when I put my own clothes together. They’ll come up and ask me if Annie went on vacation or something. It’s really funny to see.”
    Lou feels that having such a close family has made him a very lucky man.
    He had a scare two years ago after being diagnosed with prostate and lymph node cancer.
   With the help of his physician, vigorous radiation and chemo-therapy treatments, and the constant love and strength of his family, Lou was able to beat the cancer and resumed his hectic schedule.

    “I’ll never complain about working again,” he said. “My wife and my kids were just great when I was going through all that. I never thought it would happen to me, to be honest with you.”
    “Ann was always by my side. Mary Beth went from the hospital to the restaurant over and over.”
    “Louie John tried to keep my humor up with his one-liners. I knew what he was up to. Ann used to tell me how quiet he’d get at home.”
    Today, Lou Billittier is the picture of health. And, now that his daughter has taken over the day-to-day operations at Chef’s, Lou and Ann can spend more time with each other and their charities.
    What are his plans? Retirement is definitely out for this young 66-year-old.
    He intends to stay devoted to his family, play a little golf, go down to Florida and spend a few winter days there, and help Mary Beth at the restaurant.
    “You’ve got to stay motivated,” he said. “It’s very easy to sit in a rocking chair and watch TV. That’s just not for me. I’ve got to keep going.”

 

Kim Balcerzak is a freelance writer.

 

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