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03.19.08

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Photpgraph by Felipe Buitrago

Achilli's Heel

Los Gatos rocked by restaurateur's death

By Dan Pulcrano


ON the Sunday before St. Patrick's, five bagpipe players in full dress circled C.B. Hannegan's, where murdered restaurateur Mark Achilli had been a regular, then blew "Amazing Grace." The 53-year-old businessman, who had been a fixture in the local bar and restaurant industry for a couple of decades, was eulogized and toasted with shots of Don Julio, his preferred tequila.

In a town like Los Gatos, where everyone knows each other and the annual homicide rate is usually zero, Achilli's killing has dominated conversations since Friday, when eight bullets ended his life late in the morning outside his townhome.

"He was a big personality," says San Jose Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, who bartended at Achilli's lounge in downtown Los Gatos. "Everyone knew him. In the food service industry you touch a lot of people. He was out seven days a week."

Before becoming co-owner of a club and restaurant on the second floor of a 19th-century Los Gatos landmark, Achilli had worked at drinking establishment Carry Nation's across the street, as well as at the fern bar Khartoum in Campbell and the Original Crab House in west San Jose.

Achilli enjoyed a successful run as co-owner of Mountain Charley's, a historic Los Gatos drinking and live music establishment, which he operated for about eight years. In 2005, he converted the space next to Mountain Charley's into the 180 Restaurant and Lounge, which prospered after a long string of failures. He sold the businesses six months ago.

"He enjoyed retirement for about two weeks," says friend and fellow restaurateur Chris Benson of C.B. Hannegan's, who said he was restless to do something else. "If life was a rental car, he got every mile out of it."

The made-for-television drama of Achilli's death—a mysterious man, dressed in black, was spotted by witnesses before and after the shooting; the gunman left a trail of evidence—has overshadowed the personal tragedy of a talented man who left behind two daughters and a son.

Many theories have been floated in the days following the shooting, but Los Gatos–Monte Sereno police appear to be focusing on the romantic relationships of Achilli, who was separated from his wife.

Friends are organizing a memorial services for the weekend after next that's not likely to be a small affair, given the number of people that Achilli touched. He was a good client and supporter of this newspaper, and the last time I stopped by Hannegan's, he pulled me to the stool next to him at the center of the bar, and bought me a drink.

His best friend and business partner says the sale of the bar and restaurant, which closed escrow on Sept. 10, went smoothly. "It was very clean, very businesslike on both sides," Sue Farwell said.

"I don't understand it. I can't wrap my head around it. It just does not make sense," she says of her partner's death. "How does anyone not cope with their own issues to do something like this?"

"Mark worked hard—12-, 14-hour days. You're off at 2am and you're there the next morning at 10am. He needed a break and he enjoyed the time off but he was getting a little bored. He was looking forward to doing something new. We were looking at new ventures.

"He just didn't get the chance to do it."

"I want them to catch whoever did it," Farwell says. "It's just so unfair."


Alastair Dallas reports: The Los Gatos/Monte Sereno police are not revealing much. Meanwhile, reports have circulated that there may have been an altercation at a downtown Los Gatos bar on Thursday night between Achilli and another man that was heated enough that the police were called. According to this theory, a woman might have been the spark that ignited the argument that ended with eight shots fired Friday morning.

The San Jose Mercury News reported Monday that a car belonging to Achilli's girlfriend, whom the paper identified as Tessa Donnelly, 29, was parked next to the empty space where he was shot. Donnelly reportedly left Achilli a few months ago and had recently returned.

Achilli was raised in Rockville, Ill., where he attended Boylan Catholic High School. He is remembered by family and friends as a lover of golf and Dean Martin.


Alastair Dallas edits the Los Gatos Observer (losgatosobserver.com), a Metro-affiliated local news site.


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