"It wasn't just a pizza shop." Community mourns death of North Canton pizzeria owner

·3 min read
A bouquet of flowers was left outside of Contessa's Pizzeria in North Canton on Thursday following the sudden death of the shop's founder, Geno Ivey.
A bouquet of flowers was left outside of Contessa's Pizzeria in North Canton on Thursday following the sudden death of the shop's founder, Geno Ivey.

NORTH CANTON – A local pizzeria remained closed Thursday after the shop's owner passed away suddenly from COVID-19, according to his family.

Eugene "Geno" Ivey, 59, operated Contessa's Pizzeria at 6630 Wise Avenue NW near Portage Street NW for 13 years, according to the shop's website.

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Ivey's sisters Denise Bailey and Sandra Wakefield said their brother became sick last week and sought medical care on Tuesday.

'We are heartbroken. He had a joke every hour and was very funny. My sister and I are going to miss him horribly," Bailey said.

Contessa's Pizzeria was shut down following Ivey's death and will remain closed until further notice, Ivey's sisters confirmed Thursday.

The pair said their brother was always singing, dancing and loved to bowl.

"We are absolutely devastated," Bailey said.

"I'm knocked down because he's gone," Guy Bertram, 87, of Canton, said of his friend.

Bertram stopped by Contessa's on Thursday afternoon hoping to speak with workers about Ivey's death.

"Just a couple days ago, prior to all this, he told me his chest hurt, and I told him to do something about it, and he said, 'No, I can do it," Bertram said. "He was a nice guy... this is tough."

Guy Bertram, 87, of Canton stopped by Contessa's Pizzeria, hoping to speak with workers and share his condolences.
Guy Bertram, 87, of Canton stopped by Contessa's Pizzeria, hoping to speak with workers and share his condolences.

Bertram and his family had been loyal customers for 10 years.

"We came to eat here one day and it was so good, and he was so nice and helped so many people and did things ... everybody liked him," Bertram recalled.

Contessa's, named after Ivey's mother's maiden name, opened in 2008 offering Italian cuisine through carry-out, limited in-house dining, and catering services.

The shop celebrated its 13th anniversary on Nov. 1, according to a social media post last month.

News of Ivey's death was shared on the pizzeria's social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter late Wednesday. Earlier that day, the shop announced it would close early around 1 p.m. due to illness and staffing issues.

Contessa's Pizzeria is located at 6630 Wise Avenue NW in North Canton.
Contessa's Pizzeria is located at 6630 Wise Avenue NW in North Canton.

More than a pizza shop

Some customers didn't hear the news until they arrived at the restaurant for lunch.

Bob and Gail Harmelink had just picked up their dog from his first grooming appointment and had stopped by for soup and salad.

The couple asked why the business wasn't open, and after learning the owner had passed away, the couple teared up.

"It wasn't just a pizza shop, you come here and you are entertained by Geno's smart remarks and good sense of humor," Gail Harmelink said while wiping away tears.

The Harmelinks found Geno and his pizzeria five years ago, and say it became their favorite pizza spot.

Bob and Gail Harmelink of Canton, along with their dog, Snickers, swung by Contessa's Pizzeria for soup and salad not realizing the business was closed due to the death of the owner.
Bob and Gail Harmelink of Canton, along with their dog, Snickers, swung by Contessa's Pizzeria for soup and salad not realizing the business was closed due to the death of the owner.

"During COVID, he would come to our house making a special trip to deliver that pizza, soup and salad...and he just took such good care of us," Gail Harmelink said.

Ivey grew his own vegetables outside the shop and made homemade soups that kept the Harmelinks coming back.

A statement posted on the business' website reads: 'It is with heavy hearts that we mourn the loss of Contessa's founder, Geno, who has been serving North Canton since 2008."

A second statement on the shop's Facebook page reads: "Count your nights by stars, not by shadows; count your life with smiles, not by tears - Italian Proverb. Today, the world lost Geno Ivey. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to reach out as the news broke today,"

Reach Cassandra cnist@gannett.com; Twitter @Cassienist

This article originally appeared on The Repository: North Canton community mourns death of Contessa's Pizza shop owner

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