WOODSTOCK – Food has always been a pillar in the lives of the Pirros, even before it was a provider.
For 16 years, the family had made it a business – operating an Italian restaurant just off the Woodstock Square. When Terry Pirro was diagnosed with cancer on Valentine’s Day 2012, he’d been in the early stages of trying to spin off a sauce company.
Instead, he went in for surgery by the end of the month, the restaurant closed, and it would have been easy for the sauce idea to go under, too.
Except, this is the Pirros. And this is food. So Brianna Pirro, Terry’s 22-year-old daughter, took over the venture, turned it into its own company called Pirro’s Foods, and muscled the sauces into supermarkets across the region.
“He would sometimes get angry at me, and he would have no idea what was going on,” Brianna Pirro said of the hectic months she was at the helm while her father underwent treatment. They both laugh about it now – if Terry continues to get positive results during regular scans, doctors will consider him in remission by February.
“He’d be like, ‘Why are you doing that?’ He had no clue what was going on, though. He was so drugged.”
Brianna Pirro, who is studying psychology at North Central College in Naperville, put her own ambitions on hold when her father got his diagnosis a year and a half ago.
She finished up her semester but decided not to enroll for the next, instead taking the reins of the family business and caring for her dad.
“It needed to get done,” she said. “And no one else was going to do it.”
Meanwhile, Terry Pirro went through intense treatments at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital to take care of the squamous cell carcinoma that had grown on the left side of his neck.
During surgery, doctors took out his left salivary gland, part of his throat and several lymph nodes. That was followed by energy-draining radiation and chemotherapy that kept him bedridden for six months.
“Not something I would wish on my enemies,” he said. “Put it that way.”
While Terry Pirro recovered, his daughter worked. Under her leadership, Pirro’s Foods sauces have found their way into Whole Foods locations in eight nearby states. They’re manufactured at Dorina So-Good Inc. in Union.
Pirro’s so far is offering four varieties: marinara, rustic vodka, puttanesca and pizza.
“For somebody who [was] 21 years old to take on that much, it’s pretty cool,” Terry Pirro said.
Both said the experience has changed their outlook on life. They’re more appreciative of what they have. Family means more than ever.
And food – always a staple – is still in the center of it all.
“It’s our life,” Terry Pirro said. “And it’s given us a lot of great memories.”