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'This is live or die.' Owner of beloved Fla. restaurant is fighting for his life

Carlos Frías, Miami Herald on

Published in Health & Fitness

What Nino missed outside the hospital walls, his family brought in to him. Broken-hearted that he would miss his daughter’s graduation in May, Pernetti’s eyes lit up when Tatiana stepped into his room in her Notre Dame regalia.

“I put my cap and gown on, walked in and we had our own little graduation,” she said.

And when he turned 76, Marlén arrived at the rehab facility with Versailles croquetas, bocaditos and balloons. She brought the entertainer who performs at Caffe Abbracci on special occasions to play the sax and guitar as the nurses sang “Happy Birthday.”

“Nino lives off the energy of seeing people,” Marlén said.

Pernetti draws his strength from them just as his restaurant draws its strength from him. Without him at Abbracci in the last year, there has been a void.

“Nino falta,” said Loris Curzio, a manager at Abbracci for 31 years, who has known Pernetti for nearly four decades. “Nino is the head and the heart of this restaurant. The charisma of Nino cannot be replaced.”

Tatiana, despite starting Georgetown law school last fall, spent the holidays at the restaurant, visiting tables as her father did. Since the age of three, she has watched him routinely sitting with parties throughout the night, “as if you were his brother, sitting in his house,” Curzio recalled.

With Georgetown turning to remote learning for the next month, she has made overseeing Caffe Abbracci part of her responsibilities.

 

Meanwhile the longtime diners and friends who know about Pernetti’s fight continue to send well-wishes and gifts: a rosary that has been blessed by the Pope, books for Nino to read in the hospital, bottles of wine for him to celebrate the day he goes home.

“It’s been a beautiful outpouring during this most difficult year that we’ve had to endure. We are eternally grateful,” Marlén said.

When that day may be, no one yet knows. An infection in November pushed back his potential release for the holidays. But his family remains hopeful.

He has not come this far, they say, to give up now.

“This is part of the makeup of Nino,” Marlén said, “He’s a fighter.”

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