A Restaurant Worth Your Business

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A Restaurant Worth Your Business

Postby Brenda on Thu Nov 27, 2008 7:53 am

Aboca's Italian Grill

Richardson restaurateur welcomes all at his table

06:56 PM CST on Wednesday, November 26, 2008
By CHRIS COATS / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Artur Pira finds Anna seated at her regular table during Aboca's dinner rush.

"I paid 2-7-9 with this journal," she tells the restaurant's owner, pointing to a sheet of paper filled front and back with squiggle marks and numbers.

"Is that with or without tip?" Mr. Pira asks politely.

"I ... oh ..." her voice trails off, confused by the question.

"That's OK, Anna," he said. "I'll figure it out. You always pay."

Mr. Pira has been feeding Anna for free – at least twice a day since he opened his Richardson restaurant more than 4 ½ years ago. Anna is mentally ill. And Mr. Pira goes along with her rather than let her go hungry.

Those who know him say that's just part of who he is.

"He doesn't know a stranger, and his generosity has no limits," said Richardson Fire Chief Alan Palomba, who's also a regular at Aboca's at Central Expressway and Belt Line Road.

Mr. Pira's need to give back stems from the help he's received from strangers. A native of Albania, he defected from the communist country in 1990 and lived in a Yugoslavian refugee camp for a year before the Catholic Diocese of Dallas sponsored his move here.

He worked at various restaurants before saving up enough to open his own in Plano in 1997. He sold it in 2003, and a year later opened Aboca's, a mid-priced Italian eatery whose menu ranges from pizza to grilled scallops with risotto Milanese.

"God gave me the chance to come to the greatest country to make a new life," he said. "I need to give back. I won't turn the needy away. Instead, I offer them food and respect."

Mr. Pira knows little about Anna – not even her last name. He believes that she's homeless.

She carries her belongings in two plastic bags. She's probably in her 80s.

"I think Anna ended up homeless because of her mental problems," Mr. Pira said. "But she is peaceful and not mean."

Anna believes her journal pages are money, which she uses to pay for her meals. But then again, she believes a lot of things, like how country singer Dolly Parton has stolen her identity. And that wearing aluminum foil on her head will protect her from aliens' laser rays.

She declined to be interviewed for this story.

Richardson police Sgt. Kevin Perlich said Anna's background is a mystery.

"She has been frequenting that area of Richardson for several years," he said. "We've never been able to determine where she lives."

Her home away from home is Aboca's.

"Anna even sends food back if she doesn't like the presentation," server Candice Saravia said. "We'll fix it. We know from Artur to treat her like a queen."

Anna is unaware of the whispers and glances from newcomers to the restaurant. Regulars, like Bella Thompson, believe she is a reflection of how Mr. Pira treats all customers.

"Artur will care for someone whether they're homeless or have millions," she said. "He knows no difference in his heart."

Richardson police said that they've attempted to help Anna for years, but she keeps her distance.

As a coordinator of operations with the Mental Health of America of Greater Dallas, Walter Norris works with homeless people and is familiar with Anna's story.

"According to Texas law, as long as they are not a harm to themselves or others, you can't force them to seek help," Mr. Norris said.

Mr. Pira has tried, but Anna won't accept any help beyond the meals, the occasional pair of shoes and $20 on holidays. He packs food for her on Saturday evenings so she can eat on Sundays when the restaurant is closed.

Sgt. Perlich said police have fielded loitering complaints about Anna from some residents and other business owners.

But Mr. Pira has rolled out the welcome mat for her.

Genene Vewdu of Addis Abeba restaurant, adjacent to Aboca's, supports Mr. Pira's efforts.

"Artur believes that if we all help one person, then no one would go hungry," Mr. Vewdu said. "He's an inspiration on how we should treat each other."

Dallas Morning News
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