(WXYZ) — Bill Lipuma, the founder of Lipuma's Coney Island in downtown Rochester, has passed away, 7 Action News has confirmed.
Bill founded the popular Coney Island in 1969 on the Paint Creek River. His son, Tony, now runs it.
Photojournalist John Ciolino told us about the restaurant's history last year.
"They call me an icon," Bill said in 2019. "I said, 'what the hell is an icon?' I didn't know what an icon was."
"We are a true coney island," Tony said at the time. "You want a hot dog, you come here."
The restaurant features dogs from around the country and world, as well as the classic Detroit coney.
Bill's daughter Andrea Lipuma Brown wrote this about her beloved father:
Salvatore “Bill” Lipuma was a cherished husband, father, grandfather and so much more. For those that were blessed to know this man realize that he will be remembered as the coney island legend who always had a story to tell, advice to give and a huge loving warm heart.
Salvatore entered this world in 1930 as the only son of Anthony and Carmela Lipuma. Together he and his four sisters enjoyed a loving childhood together in Detroit, Michigan. Salvatore’s upbringing made our father into the amazing family man that he always was. As a son of immigrant parents he was taught the importance of hard work, the importance of having a close relationship with God and that family must always take priority. Although time with his own father was short, the love he had for his mother never waivered. He taught us how important it was to love and to love with every ounce of being.
Salvatore was a graduate of Catholic Central High School. He kept his fondness for his alma mater strong throughout his entire life. He always enjoyed reminiscing about being taught by priests, his time with friends and the camaraderie of life in a Catholic school.
After graduating from high school Salvatore began the journey that would eventually lead him in the direction of being a remarkable restauranteur, businessman and community icon. There was so many wonderful things that happened during our father’s life’s journey. Salvatore met a stunningly beautiful young woman named Mary Debano. In 1952, when our mother was 18 and our father was 22, their life’s journey began. Believe it or not, our father was a shy young man that, in the beginning, could only admire our mother from afar. He would travel the city bus (that wasn’t even the route he needed to be on), so that he could see Mary’s beautiful face. After having to build up the courage to ask her on a double date, the life-long love affair began. On December 1, 2020, our parents celebrated their 64th year of marriage together and on this December 1, although they were not side-by-side, they were able to talk on the phone and say I love you to each other once more. And they did…they loved each other always. Their love held the test of time. The first test that challenged this relationship was when our father was called to duty and had to leave for Germany as an army soldier in the Korean War. No worldwide strife would separate a love that was meant to be. A favorite story he always told us, that would always make us laugh was when all the other guys would get cookies from their gals and poor dad, he would never get anything. He would tell us that story and tell his grandkids that story with a smirk on his face but he always knew that this gal was the gal for him. Our father returned home and our parents were married in 1956. Their life together was amazing.
Together, Mary and Bill raised us three kids with the idea that family comes first. Together they taught us many lessons that we now share with our children. Our dad was a wonderful role model. He gave us the tools to build strong loving families of our own. For that we will always be grateful.
This past year our father was given Rochester’s lifetime achievement award. He received this award for 50 years of dedication to his restaurant life and to the Rochester Community. He stood in front of hundreds of people to receive this award and for the first time ever, our dad was at a loss for words. He was cheered on by the many that loved him. He was humbled. I was lucky enough to listen to my dad’s life and write down many important things that made him who he was.
Our father was in the restaurant business for many years. He started his first restaurant in Detroit, Michigan called Orbits. From there he went onto create Mondos, Aristotles and then in 1967 the infamous Lipuma’s Coney Island that we all know and love was created. 53 years ago our dad had a vision. He was a young family man with three young children. He told us he knew he wanted to make a better life for his family and he had a plan. He was passionate about this plan. He was driven and determined to make this dream a reality. He told me with his wife by his side he had no doubt it was going to work! And boy did it ever! They were living in Detroit at the time. He remembered hearing about this place called Rochester. He heard about the rolling hills and the beautiful surroundings. He and our mom would take Sunday drives with us all in tow to explore what Rochester had to offer. He fell more and more in love with this town. He knew Rochester was the place for us. He knew it was the location needed to open the restaurant he envisioned. He approached his mom back in the day to discuss his ideas. His father had passed away early on so he sought out his mother’s opinion as it was very important to him. He witnessed what hard work was as his father was a very hard working successful business man at the Eastern Market. He told me his dad worked harder than anyone he ever knew. We can now say the same for him. These traits that my father was brought up on were the foundation that allowed him to be the successful man that he was. He told me that he learned from his parent that with hard work and tenacity the American dream can definitely become a reality. Our father’s tiny loving mother, Carmela Lipuma, recognized his passion and gave him a Christmas gift that would change his life forever. Inside an envelope was a gift of $5,000. That $5,000 would allow him to set up shop at 621 North Main street in Rochester, Michigan. Lipuma’s Coney Island, his passion was now a reality! He was in the restaurant business for many years. For those that knew him, knew he always had a story to tell in regards to the events in his life. Our father made very close bonds with customers young and old. He told us he had many kids work for him over the years that have become like family. He told us he was always fascinated by the lives of his employees and his customers. Our dad told us that he always lived by the golden rule, “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.” He strongly believed that we must treat other people with the concern and kindness that you would like them to show toward you. He lived his life by that rule. He had taken kids from broken homes and broken lives and helped them change to better themselves. He always gave back to the Rochester community through donations such as working with our local police department on various events like, “Cops for Kids,” and most importantly he believed we must accept everyone. He told us he had witnessed what an impact kindness and generosity could have on a person. Our father was both kind and generous. We all loved those things about him. He tried to direct many individuals down the right path. He watched his employees go on to become amazing human beings, successful businessmen and businesswomen, doctors, lawyers and those that loved the zest of restaurant life and would choose to continue down that path just as he did. Our father enjoyed getting to know his customers and loved watching them grow from children into adults that became amazing citizens living all over this world. This amazed him. He also taught us how important it is to invest in the lives of others. Being recognized by the Rochester Community was a testament of how a small town invested in him and made a world of difference in his life by allowing him the opportunity to be a contributing member of this incredible community he called home. He opened his restaurant to serve this community. Receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award was like no other. Every day through his love and kindness he thanked the Rochester Community for supporting him by making them feel like family too.
In the early days until now, our father always networked. He was a founding member of the Barracuda club: a club consisting of like-minded buddies with a strong drive to be successful businessmen. In Rochester he spent years being a proud member of the Elks Club, The Rochester Historical Society and the National Restaurant Association. Our dad never tired of surrounding himself with others in his life. He loved people and had a true passion for life. Together with our mom they moved mountains! Our dad taught us the best of life’s lessons. He was the best role model a child could ask for. He was Papa to seven grandkids that will always adore him. He beamed when talking about each and every one of them. He lived for his family! He was our chef, our story teller and the glue that held us together. He provided us with the foundation to live life to the fullest, to make a difference in life and to remember that God is always by our side. Although we will miss dear dad immensely we know he now is living his eternal life with his mom and his dad and with our Lord, our Father. We give thanks that he lived to almost 90 years healthy. 90 years with a zest for life. We give thanks for all that he provided us, for being the amazing husband, father and papa that he was. My dad never said goodbye…he always said, “See ya later….” Dad, until we meet again. We love you.