His new restaurant in Penacook, soon to open in the former home of Donatello’s Pizza, keeps his mind busy, and that’s fine with Danny Pilsbury.
“The two women you love most in life were taken far too soon,” Pilsbury said last week. “It helps me. I have to put a lot of energy into it and it distracts me.
The distraction is good, a temporary break from endless consuming thoughts about his mother, Theresa Pilsbury, and his wife, Alexandra Pilsbury. Both died of cancer, two and a half years apart. Alexandra was 26 when she died in December 2021; Theresa was 53 when she died in June 2018.
Danny and Alexandra met at Merrimack Valley High School and lived in Salisbury. He emerged from his personal nightmare with one goal: to open a restaurant and be his own boss. He rents the space once occupied by Donatello’s Pizza, which has become one of the landmarks of the Penacook district, the place where locals would go for lunch or dinner, weekdays or weekends.
Now the former Lake Sunapee Country Club cook in New London plans to have an eclectic menu of various national cuisines. There will be room for a full bar and a musician to play, maybe strum a guitar. There is a separate dining room.
It’s called Alexandra’s Bistro.
“It’s in his honor, to keep those memories alive from all these years,” Danny said.
He is nervous, with a wispy mustache and the affability of Mr. Rogers. He played football and ran track in high school. He still holds the school record of 50.43 seconds in the 400 meters.
The comfort zone displayed in this friendship was unique. Danny and Alex grew up together, went to the same high school, and remained friends for years. No romance.
She worked at an animal shelter while in college in North Carolina. She fell in love with a rescue. She was not allowed to bring the dog home.
“She asked me, ‘Do you want a dog?’ said Danny. “I was like, ‘Yeah. I’m taking it.’ She brought the dog home for me, but we were still just friends.
That quickly changed. Danny, who had spent two years in a culinary program as a student at MV High School, got Alex a job at Lake Sunapee CC. He cooked; She served.
They had flirted during their teenage years but never connected. Either Alex had a boyfriend or Danny had a girlfriend. Or maybe they weren’t around at the same time.
Danny called it bad timing. That summer, however, at the county club, the timing was perfect.
“Our love blossomed that summer,” Danny said. “We hung out every day. It felt like it was meant to be all this time. We went on a date. It was perfect and I loved every minute of it.
Theresa, a Merrimack Valley School District librarian, attended Concord High and raised her family in Salisbury. She volunteered to read to children in Salisbury Library, mimicking the sounds and voices of the stories. She opened her own daycare in Concord.
In recent years, she often took her lunch break at Donatello’s and ate a salad. “She was a lovely woman and we were very close,” Danny said. “She loved working with children. A very nice woman, and she loved Alex too.
She fought colon cancer for a year and a half. Hope faded and returned throughout the treatment process. Her future was unclear when Danny proposed to Alex on a beach in Hawaii. Theresa knew what her son had planned.
“I showed her the ring,” Danny said. “At least I have to show him the ring.”
Theresa refused to give up hope, so her family followed her lead. They attended to his needs until his death in a hospice at Concord Hospital on June 2, 2018.
Alex’s diagnosis came a year and a half later. She noticed a bump on the side of her head, near her temple. A biopsy came back positive, and suddenly Danny and Alex rebuilt their lives, much like Theresa and her husband, David, had done in the recent past.
Alex had lost a lot of weight before the wedding celebration in August 2021. She got tired easily. She had continued to work as a nurse at Concord Hospital. At the party, however, she was unable to complete the first dance, signaling the DJ to cut the music.
“I look back on it, and it was in decline,” Danny said. “It was a struggle for her, but today meant a lot to her, and I think we gave her the dream day she wanted.”
Alex’s future quickly became clearer. The scans showed promise, but the cancer kept coming, moving to different areas. Eventually, after a grim prognosis, she told her doctors that she wanted no more treatment of any kind, and that included chemo.
“Alex was the one who made the decision,” Danny said. “She was like, ‘I can’t go through another round of this.’ She didn’t have much of a fight left in her.
Without chemo or medication, Alex could at least think and react. Concerned about his failing health, the family moved Christmas last year to December 20. There was a tree and gifts were exchanged, then music and singing could be heard outside.
“The neighborhood has put together a singing group,” Danny said. “We carried her to the window so she could watch. It was one of the last big smiles I saw. It meant a lot.
Alex died on December 23, 2021. She was 26 years old.
Depressed and tired of cooking at Lake Sunapee CC, Danny noticed he could rent the old building from Donatello.
He knew he wanted to be his own boss. He had faith in his cooking skills. He had money and a friend from a wealthy family was interested in investing and is now a 50-50 partner.
Danny says he will be serving international dishes from Italy, France and Spain. New wooden floors are smooth, but the bar hasn’t been set up yet.
Danny doesn’t know when it will open. He hopes in mid-August, but he stressed he was not sure. He thinks he is on the right track.
He feels inspired.
“They contribute to training and they contribute to the goal,” Danny said. “And it had to be called Alex. She was my wife, my everything, so this is for her.