Sandi DiGangi quietly sold her Big Pappa’s Gyros restaurant, at 10806 S. Cicero Ave. in Oak Lawn a few days after her seventh annual feed the hungry program on Christmas Day.
DiGangi, who has become known for giving away thousands of freshly cooked traditional meals on Thanksgiving and Christmas, said she plans to continue the tradition at another location.
“I had a good seven-year run,” said DiGangi on Tuesday. “I survived, and built up and improved the business,” she said.
DiGangi herself went through a bout of ill health last spring that caused her to seriously consider selling the business. She said she was misdiagnosed with cancer, but had two major operations that kept her in the hospital and out of the restaurant for weeks at a time.
Last April, one offer she received to sell the restaurant fell through when the Oak Lawn Village Board rejected the business plan put forward by the prospective owner.
But DiGangi said that when she got another offer, it was too good to turn down.
“With my health, although it is good now, I thought this was the right time to sell,” she said.
As she said in the announcement made on the restaurant’s Facebook page on Dec. 30, “The time is right. I just need to relax a little.”
“I gained so many great friends and met so many amazing people, and I was supported by so many wonderful people in Oak Lawn....I really thank everyone for everything. It was all of you who made Big Pappa’s what it is,” she added.
She has no plans to slow down, or go on vacation. Rather, she said she now has more time for volunteer work.
“I just increased my volunteer work from five hours a week to 30 hours a week,” she said, explaining that she regularly visits several area seniors, doing their grocery shopping and other errands. She also makes regular visits to seniors in hospitals and nursing homes.
“I miss the restaurant, but I have been very busy,” she said.Top of Form
“I could have closed in November, but I wanted to wait until after Christmas,” she said, explaining that the sale was finalized on Dec. 28.
So on Christmas Day, she and her three children — Tony, 20, Michaline, 17, and Nicolette, 14 — were again busy preparing and handing out free meals for the needy, as well as toys for children.
“We had another successful year. We gave away more than 3,000 meals,” she said. In addition to delivering locally to shut-ins, and giving meals to people who lined up at the restaurant, DiGangi said more than 245 meals were delivered to homeless people in downtown Chicago,
“We had a few vans go down there,” she said. “We helped a lot of families and churches.”
DiGangi said that after a slow start, the amount of donations coming in to help fund the project picked up. “I had to go into my pocket a little bit, but that is OK,” she said. “I figure if my son was alive, I would be spending the money on him, so instead, I spend it on this,” she said, referring to her son, Gary, who died at age 5
“Feeding the needy on holidays won’t stop. I’ll be looking for another location, somewhere with a full kitchen, in the next few months,” she said. “A VFW hall or someplace like that would be nice, so people could sit down and have their meals. I didn’t have much space for that in the restaurant.”
DiGangi said the new owner, whom she knows as Frank, has promised to “provide the same great quality food at low prices,” and she is encouraging her longtime customers to continue patronizing the business.
And she plans to remain living in Oak Lawn also, so she is not looking at the sale as a “good-bye.”
“Oak Lawn is my town and I love living here. I am not going anywhere,” she said.
DiGangi said her son, Anthony, who has worked alongside her in the restaurant for the last few years, is looking into opening his own fast-food restaurant.
“I’m not sure what town it will be in,” she said. “It will be all his. He learned a lot at Big Pappa’s, working from open to close. I’ll be giving my little support in the background, but I told him I won’t be working there,” she said with a laugh.