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A robber who couldn’t shoot straight showed serious disrespect to one of Buffalo’s most popular pizzerias Thursday morning, and La Nova employees chased him down.

“That punk is lucky he’s not wearing the baseball bat they keep behind the counter,” Art McDonald, a customer of the West Side pizzeria, said Thursday evening as he and others tried to digest the unthinkable – someone had dared to rob the neighborhood institution.

The crook messed with the wrong pizzeria.

La Nova, at West Ferry and Hampshire streets, is owned by a proud Italian family with a long tradition in the community and many loyal patrons and workers. They are loved. And they love the community back, donating pizzas and other food to many causes. So they have a lot of friends.

But two employees were robbed at gunpoint as they walked out of the restaurant at about 9:30 a.m. Thursday with the previous night’s cash to make a bank deposit. And then, when other employees gave chase, the robber started shooting.

“The thief was shooting over his shoulder as he ran down Hampshire to Winter Street,” La Nova delivery driver Tommy Cantwell said. “One of the guys got him by the shirt as he was going over a fence. He managed to get away through a backyard and over to 18th Street, where he fell, and that’s where they held him down. They’re chasing a guy shooting at them. That’s only supposed to happen in the movies.”

Terrance Price, 21, of Buffalo, was charged with robbery, criminal possession of a weapon and reckless endangerment by Central District police.

The stolen dough, though, remains missing. Joseph Todaro III, co-owner of the pizzeria, said he was told that the robber had been spotted in recent days hanging around the neighborhood.

“He was probably watching us,” Todaro said.

He said he is grateful to have so many loyal employees. But the most important thing was that no one was harmed by the crook, Todaro said. “We’re really thankful no one got hurt.”

Vinny Damico, a manager at the pizzeria, which employs approximately 100 people, expressed gratitude to the neighborhood for its support, saying that La Nova has a special relationship with the community.

“We want to keep our spot. We’re here to stay. The neighborhood needs us as much as we need them, and a couple of young punks aren’t going to make us leave,” Damico said as pizza delivery drivers, one after another, rushed to their vehicles at dinner time carrying stacks of pizza and other fast food bound for delivery throughout the city.

Over the years, “La Nova has hired thousands of young people, giving them jobs, and some have made a career out of it,” added Cantwell, who has worked two decades delivering for La Nova.

In recent years, La Nova has branched out, selling frozen chicken wings to stores throughout the United States, Europe, the Caribbean islands and even as far away as China, according to Todaro, whose grandfather started the business.

Daniel Colon, 24, said it was hard to fathom how anyone would be brazen enough to rob the restaurant.

“It’s insane. I’ve been living in the neighborhood since I was six years old, and I’ve never heard of La Nova being robbed,” he said. “Everybody likes La Nova. It’s a good eating place. Come on, what place do you know that gets so super busy at lunch you have to wait an hour to get your order.”

email: lmichel@buffnews.com