Anthony J. Napolitano, longtime owner of the iconic Maria’s Ristorante in Portland who dedicated his life to creating authentic Italian cuisine for patrons, died Tuesday. He was 79.

He died the same day that renovations were completed on the restaurant’s dining room and didn’t get to see the completed update. The grand reopening of Maria’s is scheduled for Thursday.

“This seemed to be his final gem on the crown,” said his son, Tony Napolitano, an owner of the family restaurant. “He wanted it special for people. He did a beautiful job.”

Mr. Napolitano opened his first restaurant, Napoli’s Restaurant on Veranda Street in Portland, in 1960. He ran it until 1972 and then opened the first Maria’s Ristorante in Westbrook. He ran that restaurant for four years before moving to its current location on Cumberland Avenue.

He worked alongside his wife, Madeline Napolitano, for many years. She was the hostess, who greeted and seated customers. He worked in the kitchen preparing many of the authentic Italian dishes that put Maria’s on Portland’s food map.

A Facebook post about Napolitano’s passing calls him “the soul of the restaurant.” The post drew more than 35 comments from mourners.

Mr. Napolitano was praised for his classic Italian dishes, such as spaghetti and meatballs and chicken Parmesan, but he brought so much more to the table. He introduced patrons to authentic Italian cuisine such as veal piccata, casalinga pizza, baked ziti in casserole, and calamari. His son said his father’s veal sausages were exceptional.

“While others built their business on volume, he built his business on (creating) a quality product,” said his son. “He educated a lot of people in Portland about classic Italian food. Dad brought it up a notch.”

His son talked briefly about the years he worked for his father.

“It was very tough at times,” the younger Napolitano said. “He was old-school. He was the toughest person I ever had to work for, but I’m grateful for what he taught me. He was the best teacher I ever had.”

Outside the restaurant, Mr. Napolitano devoted his time to family. He was married to his wife for 54 years. The couple lived on Portland’s Eastern Promenade, where they raised three sons.

His son said he was a great family man. He remembered the time they spent on Raymond Pond and the trips his parents made to North Conway, New Hampshire.

“We were always together at the lake or doing something together,” he said. “He was a tough-love kind of guy, but he was always there for us. … Everything we needed, he provided.”

Mr. Napolitano retired from the family restaurant about 10 years ago, but stopped by frequently to check in on his sons.

In recent years, his focus shifted to his triplet granddaughters, who called him “Pop Pop.”

“They were the love of his life. They were the apple in his eye,” his son said.

The restaurant will reopen as scheduled Thursday. The Crooners, who are playing a dinner show on Saturday, will go on as scheduled.

“We are keeping that on in memory of my dad. He loved their music so much,” his son said.