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Munchies

A Brooklyn Murder Mystery Surrounds a Stolen Pizza Sauce Recipe

Louis Barbati, the 61-year-old fourth-generation owner of the beloved Bensonhurst pizzeria L&B Spumoni Gardens, was shot five times in his backyard on June 30 while his wife and two sons were inside his home.

by Wyatt Marshall
Jul 5 2016, 6:30pm

A New York City pizza icon was fatally shot outside his home in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dyker Heights on Thursday night. Now, police investigators are trying to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding his murder.

Louis Barbati, the 61-year-old fourth-generation owner of the beloved Bensonhurst pizzeria L&B Spumoni Gardens, was shot five times in his backyard on June 30 while his wife and two sons were inside his house. Neighbors reported seeing a man in his 30s wearing a hoodie fleeing the scene. The jewelry that Barbati was wearing and a $10,000 bag of cash he was carrying were not taken, and investigators are now pursuing leads to see if the murder has its origins in a stolen pizza sauce recipe.

Known for its doughy, square slices, L&B Spumoni Gardens is located in Bensonhurst and is a popular destination for its signature pizza. The New York Times reports that in 2009, a former employee, Eugene Lombardo, stole the recipe for L&B's sauce and opened his own pizza place on Staten Island. The restaurant, called The Square, even hung a sign in the front window that said, "Best Pizza: Just like L&B Spumoni Gardens," according to Gerald McMahon, a lawyer tied to L&B Spumoni Gardens who called the whole thing "shameless."

After The Square opened, Francis Guerra, who at the time was married to a woman whose family co-owned L&B Spumoni Gardens alongside Barbati, went to speak to Lombardo at his new restaurant. He brought Anthony Russo, a former capo in the Colombo crime family who later testified as a government witness. They allegedly threatened Lombardo to stop using the recipe, but McMahon, Guerra's lawyer, said that Guerra was acquitted of making any threats.

Photo via Flickr user Robert Judge

Photo via Flickr user Robert Judge

The stolen sauce recipe is a complicated affair, and the New York Daily News reports that the situation eventually involved a payout between the Colombo and Bonanno families.

Robert K. Boyce, the chief of detectives for the New York Police, said that when Barbati pulled up to his house on Thursday evening, the assassin was waiting for him.

Barbati's neighbors and L&B Spumoni Gardens regulars are now mourning the loss of a neighborhood figure. Hundreds attended Barbati's wake over the weekend, and his family is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

"It's a big loss, it's a big loss," Frankie Modafferi, a resident of the area, told CBS News. "That pizzeria's been around for probably about 80 years now. It's a beloved place, and it's just sad to see someone die that gave back to the community."

The restaurant is closed today—Tuesday, July 5—to mourn Barbati.