MARATHON — Tragedy struck a local family this past week as the husband-and-wife owners of Marathon’s Upper Crust Pizza, Rigoberto and Riza Gonzalez, died from COVID-19 within moments of each other, according to friends.
The couple, who immigrated from Colombia and were married over 50 years ago, quickly succumbed to the virus. Their adult son, Ricardo, also contracted COVID and was hospitalized, but was showing signs of improvement. A server at the restaurant also had symptoms consistent with the virus.
The news devastated long-time patrons of the pizzeria.
“We are just not only shocked by them both passing away but also heartbroken. They will be truly missed,” Marathon resident Jeff Shelar posted on Facebook. Shelar said he and Rigoberto would play an occasional game of chess.
“I’m just heartsick,” Pat McDade Fischer posted on Facebook. “Rigo and Riza were two of the sweetest, hard-working, friendly people. Fell in love with them and their restaurant.”
Upper Crust Pizza was originally founded in Marathon in 1980. Throughout the years the restaurant has been lauded by both locals and visitors for its ambiance, cleanliness, food quality and, most of all, the personal attention of the owners. It was not uncommon for them to know regular patrons by name.
In October 2006, the couple moved the pizzeria to its current location at 37th Street. The relocation process took over two years from concept to completion.
The business is not associated with any franchise or chain and was their only location in the Keys. There is an Upper Crust Pizza in Key Largo, but they are not affiliated.
“The restaurant community has had a really rough time throughout COVID,” said Tony Piscetello of Driftwood Pizza and Subs in Marathon, one of the few remaining retail pizza outlets in the Middle Keys.
“It’s been rough on all of us. We’re doing our best to keep going.”
Piscetello added that he enjoyed a friendly relationship with the Gonzalez family.
“If we ran out of pizza boxes, I’d call them and they’d get me some,” he said. “They were really nice people.”