Hundreds, if not thousands, of San Clemente residents flowed into Casa Romantica as the sun sunk in the sky Tuesday afternoon.
Valets were run ragged as a stream of the late restaurateur and philanthropist Tony Carbonara's admirers entered the venue to celebrate the man's life. He died Thursday evening after failing to wake from a medically induced coma, the result of a massive stroke he suffered the morning before. He was 59.
His wife, Mary Carbonara, greeted nearly everyone with a hug and exchanged kind words in the courtyard before sending them off for food from a half-dozen or so local restaurants who came together to provide refreshments for the party.
Michael Lewinsky, the Carbonaras' neighbor, said he knew Tony Carbonara for 14 years.
"We raised our children in Thousand Oaks and never saw the inside of our neighbors' homes," he said. "Immediately, he became part of the family. We were invited to their daughter's wedding, barbecues, and impromptu potlucks. He knew no strangers, and everybody was his friend. I don't know where he got the energy to mean so much to so many people. It was a blessing to be invited into his life, and I will leave this earth a very rich man because of it."
Family and friends from out of town also came to the celebration. Enza Addante flew out Friday with her daughter Lina Addante from Calgary in Canada.
"He's the godfather of my daughter," Enza Addante said. "My mother was his nanny, back home in Italy. I've known him for 30 years. Our first Vegas experience with him, we went to the Golden Nugget, VIP. We said we were tired; we want to go to bed. He said, 'Too bad, the limo's out front.'"
Even business acquaintances and competitors in the restaurant business remembered him fondly.
"Tony had this humor about him," said Nipper Larson, who had just met Carbonara over the past year in the course of helping him refinance his property. "When he said something, for a moment, you didn't know whether he was serious. But he was deadly serious about San Clemente and [Avenida] Del Mar -- promoting the shops and businesses."
Carbonara owned and operated Carbonara Trattoria on Del Mar for two decades. He was also a prolific caterer, offering food service as donations to hundreds of events for community organizations from youth sports, to the Rotary club to the Downtown Business Association.
Perhaps Sally Daniel, a bartender at the Red Fox who competed against Carbonara's bartenders in the Chamber of Commerce's San Clemente Official Drink Contest, summed it up best.
"Tony was the best guy ever," she said. "He made everybody feel like family. If we could have half of this when we pass, I'd be great ― to have this many people know you and like you whether they've been here for 25 or 30 years or last year."