Ethel DiPaolo, 88, a founding owner of Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant

May 2, 1932 – March 21, 2021

Ethel Martinez, born in Uniontown, Pa., took a leap of faith when she met a handsome young wrestler from Italy in 1952.

Her stepfather was a promoter, and Ilio DiPaolo was one of his wrestlers.

“After six weeks, he proposed to her. He couldn’t speak English, she couldn’t speak Italian,” said their son, Dennis DiPaolo.

Ilio DiPaolo told his future wife, in Italian, “I love you. Will you marry me? We’ll make a family.”

“My heart just said yes,” Mrs. DiPaolo told her children.

After a small wedding in Baltimore, the two of them took a blanket and a picnic basket to the White House lawn to celebrate. It was the start of a love affair that continued until Ilio DiPaolo’s death in 1995.

Mrs. DiPaolo, the matriarch of the family and a founder of Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant, died Sunday surrounded by her family at her Orchard Park home following a brief illness. She was 88. 

“It’s been a long 26 years for her. She’s finally at peace,” Dennis DiPaolo said of his mother.

The couple together, and then with a growing family, traveled in and outside the country to wrestling matches, but settled in Buffalo in 1960 when it was time for their oldest child to go to school. 

“It just so happened, we fell in love with it,” Mrs. DiPaolo told The Buffalo News at a party for all of the restaurant’s former and current workers in 2015. “I’m very grateful to Blasdell.”

The family first lived in a trailer on Van Wyck Street in Lackawanna while the children were young. 

They opened their first pizza shop in 1961, but the business was destroyed when the laundromat next door caught fire. With no income, Ilio DiPaolo went to wrestle in Japan. He used the money he earned there as a down payment for a new pizzeria on South Park Avenue in Blasdell, the site of the current restaurant.

Although the restaurant carries her husband’s name, Mrs. DiPaolo worked in it from the beginning, handling the bookkeeping. She was no stranger to the kitchen, either, and the restaurant still uses her recipes for macaroni salad and coleslaw.

“She still did the books and signed every check until a couple years ago,” Dennis DiPaolo said.

Mrs. DiPaolo was affiliated with the Rotary Club of Blasdell, Compassionate Friends and Artemis Adelphi, an Italian group of friends.

Trocaire College named Mrs. DiPaolo woman of the year in 2000, and she was honored by the Italian American Leadership Council and Hilbert College.

She had a great number of friends, from professional football players to the neighbors across the street, her son said.   

“I’m grateful they chose Buffalo to raise a family,” Dennis DiPaolo said.

Family and community rallied around her when her daughter, Lisa, and granddaughter, Tara, died in an accident in 1989, and again when her husband was fatally struck by a car in 1995.

She is survived by a daughter, Barbara Hunt; two sons, Dennis and Michael; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church, 3148 Abbott Road, Orchard Park.

Obituaries Newsletter

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Barbara O'Brien

Barbara O’Brien


Rochester native and St. Bonaventure alum.

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