GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A third-generation restaurateur who was fatally stabbed inside his Southwest Side business was a loving family man who grew up in the restaurant trade and was passionate about the blue collar neighborhood where he worked.
Joey Vitale, a married father of two daughters, died from injuries suffered in the Wednesday evening attack at Burton Heights Pizza. It is one of several restaurants operated by the extended, close-knit Vitale family.
Grand Rapids police are holding a 33-year-old man in connection with the slaying. The suspect has an extensive criminal history that includes multiple convictions for assault. He was discharged from the Michigan Department of Corrections less than two years ago.
On Friday, warrants were authorized charging the man, Tony Devern Streets Jr., with open murder, armed robbery and carjacking. He was arraigned Friday afternoon in Grand Rapids District Court. The judge ordered him held without bond.
Vitale, 31, who lived in Wyoming, committed himself to the Burton Heights neighborhood where his family has operated a restaurant for many years.
“Joey was just a gentle, loving soul,’’ his aunt, Gigi Weaver said. “He always made time for everyone he met. A lot of people knew him and a lot of people are going to miss him.’’
Restaurant employees held a candlelight vigil Thursday evening outside the business that was attended by scores of friends and supporters. Well-wishers had already placed candles, notes and flowers in front of the business by midday Thursday. Flower bouquets also appeared at other restaurants operated in the metro Grand Rapids area by the Vitale family.
“Today is a really sad day for Burton Heights,’’ said Rebecca Stepter, a long-time customer who lives near the restaurant. “If you raised your kids here, this is what they knew as Italian food.’’
She said Joey and his parents, Frank and Wanda Vitale, stayed dedicated to the neighborhood when others fled.
“The Vitales did not have to keep a business in the inner city,’’ she said. “People may look down on our neighborhood, but they never have.’’
The attack occurred about 8 p.m. on Wednesday inside the restaurant, 315 Burton Street SW. Vitale was stabbed by a man who had been creating a disturbance. The suspect accosted another man in the parking lot before fleeing, investigators said.
Vitale tried to drive himself to a hospital about three miles away. He crashed his vehicle on Wealthy Street SE, a short distance from Mercy Health St. Mary's hospital. A Grand Rapids police officer was nearby and provided emergency treatment before Vitale was taken to the hospital where he later died.
A police dog was used to help track down the suspect, who was arrested not far from the restaurant. Authorities say he was combative with officers. Police recovered evidence linked to the homicide, the city's eighth murder in 2018.
A funeral Mass for Vitale is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, Oct. 8 at Our Lady of Sorrows, 101 Hall St. SE in Grand Rapids.
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