Massimiliano Nigri took the rare Saturday night February 27th.
It was nearing the peak of the winter tourist season in Sarasota, and the city was teeming with locals desperate to escape COVID lockdowns and enjoy a restaurant meal.
As the owner of Café Amici in downtown Sarasota, Nigri had to be there. But he had a date that night.
Instead of making sure tourists were happy with their squid or osso Bucco, Nigri danced the night away with her 6-year-old daughter Viviana in a father-daughter dance hosted by her school, The Classical Academy of Sarasota.
“My phone was ringing constantly with phone calls and texts with people saying we needed a table,” Nigri said. “I realized I better turn off my phone or else I’ll go crazy.
“These are the days you will never forget for the rest of your life.”
It’s a lesson Nigri is constantly learning, ever since he became a dad with the birth of Viviana in 2014, and he tries to balance running a business with raising a young girl. Nigri shares custody of Viviana with her mother, Lyndsay.
He had a lot of advisers – he started bringing Viviana to Café Amici when she was just a baby, and customers were quick to give advice to the new dad.
As these clients shared their wisdom, many of whom were retirees who had their own fathering experiences to ponder, they found a common theme: time is a gift.
Growing up in southern Italy, Nigri learned from his father that providing for the family is most important. Leave something for your children to hold on to, it is a sign of fatherly love.
But when Nigri became a father, he took on a different mindset. Yes, if Viviana wants to take over the business one day, he would like her to make it her own and have her legacy to build on.
But he’s not going to trade that for hours spent playing soccer on the beach, picking her up from school, or teaching her how to make homemade pasta. As she learns to tie her shoes, he learns to be a dad, and he said it simply, “You grow up together.”
“Sometimes when you are very involved in your business, sometimes you forget to spend quality time with your child and then you realize ‘Oh my God, where have all those years gone,’ said Nigri. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication – it means you just have to do the basics, like spending time with it, being there, not ignoring it.”
For Nigri, who runs a restaurant in the evenings and weekends when her daughter is at home, that means bringing her to restaurants as much as possible. She’s an integral part of Cafe Amici, and regulars got to see her growing from a baby learning to make homemade pasta in the kitchen, though Nigri said he hadn’t served it to any of his customers yet. .
These hours spent together are what Nigri cherishes most in fatherhood. And that’s an attitude he didn’t have before he became a father, when running a restaurant was his all-consuming passion.
Now, he sees evenings like father-daughter dancing as sweet moments that he wouldn’t trade for nothing, and he talks about them in the same way one might spend an unforgettable evening in the city.
“The music, the food, so many fathers there. It was different, a different feeling. I said I’m glad I took off today, ”he said.
“You make her dance, you spin her around and she just wants to do more spin and spin,” he said with a laugh. “It was very, very pleasant. “
Ryan McKinnon covers schools for the Herald-Tribune. Connect with him at [email protected] or on Twitter: @JRMcKinnon. Support the Sarasota Herald-Tribune by subscribing today.