Steve Occhipinti, a longtime and well-respected restaurateur in Dallas, passed away on Sunday after an eight-month battle with colon cancer. His wife, Carol, and his 21-year-old daughter, Gina, were by his side. He was 63.
Occhipinti was diagnosed in February with stage 4 cancer that had already metastasized to his liver. He underwent chemotherapy during the summer but continued to work at home in his capacity as director of business development for LK Concepts, parent company of Little Katana Sushi. He stopped working after his condition began to deteriorate in late July.
After moving to Dallas in 1986, Occhipinti spent the next 26 years working in just about every fine-dining restaurant in Dallas.
Born on November 14, 1948, in Louisiana, he moved to Dallas in 1986 and spent the next 26 years working at just about every fine-dining restaurant in Dallas.
Robert Colombo, of La Reve restaurant group, which owns Villa-O, called him a "sweet, sweet man."
"He had a wonderful heart, and he was very dedicated to his trade," Colombo says. "He loved people and the entire aspect of being in the restaurant business.
"He had that great personality and was not afraid to extend himself to everybody that was around him. The staff loved him. He was always conscious of them, and that's rare. He was just a first-class guy."
His daughter, Gina, who dropped her college classes this fall in order to spend time with him, says that her family had begun searching for a comfortable hospice for him last week when he suddenly became very sick on Saturday.
"He had a wonderful heart, and was very dedicated to his trade," says Robert Colombo of La Reve restaurant group.
"In the last 15 hours, he couldn't talk. He was having trouble breathing and was really out of it and sleepy," she says. "We made sure he was comfortable. My mom and I stayed with him and held his hands.
"He wasn't moving, but they say your hearing is the last thing to go. We kept telling him, 'We love you, it’s going to be okay.' He had tears rolling down his cheeks. I looked up at him and he squeezed my hand."
She said she was hoping to get a sign from him after his passing.
"I was talking to my mom, and I said, 'I wonder if Dad's going to send signs,'" Gina says. "When I was young, my dad and I would look for butterflies and name them. Even when I was older, we'd say, 'There's Brownie, there's Chelsea,' and now I treasure that. And I've seen probably 15 butterflies today."
In addition to his wife and daughter, Occhipinti is survived his sister, Paula, who lives in Florida, and his brother, John, who lives in Louisiana.
Funeral arrangements are still being made.