'Sopranos' actor helps PizzaVito on Archer Road open with a bang


Published: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 1:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 1:50 p.m.

When TV viewers last saw Furio Giunta, the ruthless mafia hit man was hopping a plane back to Italy because his love for the wife of his boss, Tony Soprano, might get him whacked.

On Wednesday, Furio surfaced in Gainesville - kind of. Federico Castelluccio, the actor who portrayed Furio for three seasons on the wildly popular HBO series "The Sopranos," made a guest appearance at the grand opening party for the new PizzaVito restaurant across from Butler Plaza on SW Archer Road.

Since this was real life and not a Sopranos episode, the only thing getting sliced up was pizza, and the only liquid running red was marinara sauce. Instead of shooting, stabbing and beating payments out of customers, Castelluccio signed autographs and posed for pictures.

But Castelluccio, 44, has a few things in common with his character, whom Sorpano brought over from Naples to add some muscle to his north New Jersey crime syndicate.

Like Furio, Castelluccio was born in Naples and ended up in New Jersey, where he grew up. Then, there's the love for Italian cooking.

"I grew up in a very strict and authentic Italian household," Castelluccio said. "My mother was from Bari. She was always cooking traditional Neapolitan and Barese meals."

So when Furio cooked a pot of pasta or made some fresh mozzarella on the show, Castelluccio was not acting.

With speculation about a possible Sopranos movie still swirling, Castelluccio said he hopes creator David Chase would bring his character back if the mafia family hits the big screen.

He noted Furio was rare among Sopranos' characters - written off, but not killed off. He thinks Furio would also add an element of danger to a film since he came close to trying to kill Tony Soprano before heading back to Italy.

In the meantime, Castelluccio says he wants to help PizzaVito take over Florida.

Wednesday was his first appearance at one of the chain's pizzerias and he wants to ink a long-term agreement with the company.

Celebrity chef Santo Bruno, who's been on the Food Network and Martha Stewart's show, was also at the grand opening ceremony.

"Pizza outsells burgers and chicken any day and anywhere," Bruno boasted.

His connection to the family that founded PizzaVito stretches back several decades.

Long before co-founder Vito DiBartolo opened his first pizza place in Queens, Bruno and DiBartolo grew up together in the Brooklyn neighborhood, Williamsburg, that notorious mob boss Joe Bonanno ran.

The pizzeria on Archer Road, which opened in December, is the first PizzaVito in Florida, although the corporate office is in Gainesville.

While some restaurant chains are closing, the Gainesville PizzaVito has, so far, been packed, said Carmen Cruz, who owns the Gainesville franchise with her husband, Hector.

Their daughter, Mabelissa Acevedo, owns the I Love New York Pizza franchise in Haile Plantation.

Like PizzaVito, that chain started with Vito DiBartolo and his son Joe, said PizzaVito vice president Ian Arroyo.

Arroyo said PizzaVito has major expansion plans for Florida, with hopes for 30 more franchises within the next two years.

And, yes, the dough is made with genuine New York City water.

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