Pueblo loses friend to all, restaurateur

The Pueblo Chieftain

Bob Pagano was the best of caretakers to family, friends, employees and church, an extraordinary cook, prankster and relentless gadget collector.

That's how his wife Karen, mother Mary Jo Pagano, sisters Kathy and Jonna Pagano and sons Justin, 19, and Andrew, 11, remembered the North Side restaurateur on Wednesday.

Pagano, who together with his wife and sisters ran the Pass Key 50 West restaurant on U.S. 50 West, died Monday from complications during surgery at a local hospital. He was 45.

A Pueblo native, Pagano graduated from South High School in 1975.

"If you knew him once, you were his friend. He was so generous to people, always wanting to talk to people," Kathy Pagano said of her brother's friendliness. "Even in the middle of lunch (rush), if somebody saw him in the kitchen and started talking to him, he'd stop cooking, come out of the kitchen, start talking to them and shake their hands."

The Paganos say Bob always took employees under his wing, viewing them like family rather than hired help. Older folks, too, were among his favorite people.

In turn, Jonna Pagano said, senior citizens often stopped by the restaurant to give Bob pies.

"They'd never bring us girls anything, but they'd bring him pies," she said.

The Paganos are part of the local restaurant legend that began frying up Pass Key sausage grinders about 53 years ago and today has grown to run five restaurants in Pueblo, Pueblo West and Colorado Springs.

Kathy Pagano said she, Bob and her sisters started in the business when they were "10 years old, peeling potatoes in the basement."

Bob's love of cooking and barbecuing only grew stronger, the Paganos said, and that meant his weekends often involved grilling for family cookouts and church dinners and using his grandmother's recipe to perfect the restaurant's spaghetti sauce and meatballs.

He and his wife also ran a side business, Pass Key On The Go, at venues like the Colorado State Fair and Pueblo Motorsports Park.

Bob's sons, Justin and Andrew, said they'll remember their father's pranks, his desire to own the newest technology, making his family a priority and living life to the fullest.

"He had the smallest DVD (digital video disc) player I've ever seen in my life," said Justin.

Mrs. Pagano said her son was remarkable because he always showed her that he enjoyed her company.

"He was always wonderful, very considerate, especially of his mom, always calling," she said.

Pagano's other survivors include his father, John Pagano, and children, 17-year-old Brian and 8-year-old Candice.

Services are set for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Shrine of St. Therese, 300 Goodnight Ave.