March 9, 2021 By Michael Dorgan
Pablo Calle, the longtime co-owner of Donato’s Italian Restaurant, died Wednesday. He was 69.
Pablo was an affable, gregarious character, known for greeting customers into his restaurant, which is situated on the corner of 39th Avenue and 51st Street on the Sunnyside/Woodside border.
The Ecuadorian native established the restaurant, located at 50-22 39th Ave., in 1999 along with his two brothers Oswaldo and Luis.
The restaurant serves Italian dishes like hand-made pizzas and various pasta dishes. Donato’s also offers hamburgers and seafood dishes.
Pablo, Oswaldo said, was the face of the restaurant and customers were often drawn to eat there due to his good humor and attention to detail.
“Pablo was a very good person. He was like an artist, always taking care of customers, recommending the right food and making sure everyone was being looked after,” Oswaldo said.
“He was a really funny, happy person. Everybody knew him and liked him.”
Pablo, Oswaldo said, fell ill around two months ago and checked himself into the hospital. The doctors carried out tests and later diagnosed him with having stage 4 cancer in his liver.
He underwent one round of chemotherapy but the cancer was so bad that the doctors recommended he stop receiving treatment.
Around a month ago the doctors told Pablo he didn’t have long to live and gave him the option of seeing out his final days in the hospital or at home. He opted to remain at his Jackson Heights home under the care of his family and he died peacefully on March 3.
His funeral service took place Saturday at the St. Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church on 35th Avenue in Jackson Heights.
Pablo first came to New York from Ecuador in the early 1970s. He returned for the second time in 1980 with his brother Oswaldo and settled for good. Luis followed them in 1983.
The three brothers did not have any education and could not speak English when they arrived, Oswaldo said.
They worked in various Italian restaurants in Manhattan’s Little Italy district, learning everything about the trade and how to speak English and Italian.
“The restaurants were our school, that’s how we learned about the names of the dishes and how to prepare them,” Oswaldo said. They moved to Queens in 1986 and continued working in the Italian restaurant business.
The brothers established Donato’s in 1999 and Pablo – the eldest of the three – operated it on his own initially. It became so popular under Pablo that the two brothers left their own jobs and joined him full time within two years of opening, Oswaldo said.
He said that the establishment has flourished since then but Donato’s and the Calle family have now lost their patriarch.
Pablo has left behind a legacy of good family virtues and happy memories, Oswald said.
“He loved to talk and joke. He made everyone laugh. We will miss him a lot.”
Pablo is survived by his wife Laura, his daughters Miriam and Cesilia and his son Paul. Pablo also had a grandson and granddaughter.
So sorry to hear of Pablo’s illness and, now, of his passing. He was so kind and a real asset to the Sunnyside community. May he rest in peace.