The family of beloved coffee culture pioneer Sisto Malaspina has spoken of a “larger than life character” who “loved this great city so much”.
In a statement released through Victoria Police, the family said it had accepted the offer of a state funeral, which will be held next week.
“We would like to thank Dad’s friends, customers, and all the wonderful people that have come forward to pay their respects and show their love and support. We are deeply moved by all the flowers, gifts and condolences,” the family’s statement reads.
“To the people of Melbourne, your heartfelt tributes have shown us why our Dad loved this great city so much.
“To the emergency services personnel; our gratitude and appreciation for all your hard work and efforts. Especially the first responders and police that put themselves in harm’s way to protect others, your bravery and heroism is a representation of the strength and solidarity of our community.
“Dad was a larger than life character and his natural generosity made every individual he met feel welcome and important.
“Each customer of Dad’s was given the same respect and service regardless of their standing in society. To him everyone was special. His love and passion for his customers remained the same for over 40 years. To him it was a joy to go to work every day.
“In honour of Dad’s memory the wonderful staff at Pellegrinis are determined to continue his legacy with the same passion.”
Sisto’s funeral will be on Monday or Tuesday, with the family requesting no politicians make speeches.
The Governor of Victoria, Linda Dessau, will address the gathering.
Melbourne institution Pellegrini’s will open in a “limited capacity” tomorrow. A large sign in the window said the cafe would now open at 8am Tuesday as tributes continue to flow in at the Bourke St cafe.
On Sunday morning, the outpouring of flowers and gifts had been passed onto Sisto’s family.
Commuters paid their respects on their way to work, with many expected to return for the reopening.
It comes as the state’s peak Muslim body says Friday’s terrorist attack had nothing to do with Islam, and it has condemned political leaders for “exploiting dreadful events for cynical political or ideological point scoring”.
SISTO LEAVES HOLE IN MELBOURNE’S HEART
Sisto Malaspina was the kind of guy who might have leaned across the bar to help a customer come to terms with a tragedy like this.
With a tea-towel draped over his shoulder, he could have offered a short black and the comforting advice that could help anybody struggling to make heads or tails of it.
It was service customers had come to expect.
Hollywood A-listers and football stars were among regulars to pull up a pew at the Bourke St cafe.
He had framed pictures of the likes of Sigrid Thornton and Russell Crowe on the shelves inside Pellegrini’s as if to prove the appeal.
But there was no need, especially today.
Hundreds of strangers stood outside the restaurant in search of the man who helped define Melbourne’s cafe culture.
He was not there, of course.
Sisto, the immigrant Italian who carved out a life of contribution, died at the hand of another who was caught in a spiral of ugly ideology.
Their paths crossed last Friday and Sisto’s life ended on a bloody footpath, less than 100m from the cafe he loved.
A man with an accordion summoned a tune today in a bid to make sense of it. He sang Bella Ciao, a song of wartime resistance that seemed fitting in this city where residents now think twice.
Those who knew Sisto best tried to sum it up in words posted next to the shop he had nurtured from the 1970s.
EVERYBODY KNEW SISTO, AND HE KNEW EVERYBODY
The author of a note promising to pass on all messages and flowers to the family may not have expected this level of response.
By 5pm the bouquets stretched around the corner onto Crossley St. The stories and anecdotes stretched much further.
There was talk of Sisto’s incessant banter about Essendon. And his insistence, to anybody asking, that a great pasta sauce starts with good tomatoes.
For Allyson Fonseca, who celebrated her birthday at Pellegrini’s with Sisto just last month and captured his joy for life on film, he was a man with a “heart of gold” who always saw the best in people.
“Always ready with a smile, lots of love and a generous serve of lasagne, Sisto went out of his way to make people feel special,” Ms Fonseca said.
“It breaks my heart to know he was killed by the person he was trying to save.
“I believe we can keep the spirit of Sisto alive by emulating his pure love for life. His secret ingredient: “Grande amore.” And perhaps a cheeky wink on the side.”
Memorial books on a table offered yet more tales.
Some confessed to having never known him but wished they had. Others simply said sorry to the man whose hospitality had ushered thousands to the Paris end of the city.
“There’s a hole in Melbourne’s heart now that you’re gone,” said one.
Kitchen worker Lucia told the Herald Sun she had worked with Sisto for 18 years.
“He was my big brother, he wasn’t my boss,” she said.
“I would tell him everything. Those years were the best years of my life. We joked.
“He was a marvellous man.”
President of the Vespa Club Melbourne Julie Pond said around 40 members cancelled their usual monthly meet in order to do a commemorative ride to Pellegrini’s.
“Sisto has touched everyone’s heart,” she said. “Every time they parked their Vespas here, Sisto came out.”
Major Brendan Nottle from the Salvation Army revealed he was a regular customer.
“Everyone was welcome, it didn’t matter who you were,” he said. “Sisto made you feel really special.”
Mr Malaspina’s family is considering the offer of a state funeral.