Rochester NY restaurateur John Vito dies

Rochester’s restaurant scene is full of unique characters, yet even among them, there was no one quite like John Vito.

“His culinary skills were obviously impressive,” Jonathan Feldman, a federal magistrate judge and close friend for nearly 30 years, wrote in an email.

At O’Bagelo’s, Vito’s longtime downtown breakfast and lunch spot, the oyster-artichoke bisque routinely sold out. The turkey sandwiches were made with thick hunks of oven-roasted turkey rather than deli slices.

Chewy and rich, “The chocolate chip cookies were amazing,” said Bradley Kammholz, a Rochester lawyer who like Feldman, first met Vito as a customer of O’Bagelo’s, in business from 1991 to 2011.

But the restaurateur nourished his friends, his customers and his community in a way that went far beyond food.

Acerbic and accommodating, tough and tender, he was a father figure and teacher of life lessons. Someone who demanded a lot from people but gave them a lot in return.

“He was my best man,” Kammholz said. “I don’t think I was the only one.”

Vito died July 7 at age 56 at Strong Memorial Hospital, surrounded by loved ones, according to Margaret Mary Donlon, another close friend who worked part time at O’Bagelo’s from 1999 to 2006.