Elmo Fanti, a successful businessman and restaurateur, died early Sunday while surrounded by family and close friends at Stony Brook University Hospital. He was 77.
Fanti, who had been hospitalized for the past three months with pneumonia, was placed on a ventilator, and died of cardiac arrest.
"He was a handshake type of guy with old-school values," said his son Nick Fanti of Hauppauge. "He lived the American dream of work hard and the dollar will come. He was a disciplinarian of the highest standard and had expectations in all aspects of his life. And there was nothing more important than the well-being and care of his family."
Fanti was born on Christmas in Astoria to immigrants Marco and Ida Fanti of Lachessa, Italy. His parents did not speak English but they instilled a work ethic in their son that set the foundation for a life filled with successful businesses in construction and the food industry.
Fanti moved from the public school system in Queens to Hicksville in 1949. He graduated from Hicksville High School in 1950. He met the love of his life in 1954 while dining at Frankie and Johnnie's Ice Cream Parlor in Hicksville.
Fanti was sitting on a stool and ordered a "malted" shake. The counter girl, Sophie Santoriello, who prepared the drink, found that he was dissatisfied, family members said.
"He took a sip and told her the malted wasn't sweet enough," laughed his son Nick Fanti as he recalled the story. "She took the malted, stuck her finger in it and stirred it up. She told me, he just sat there shaking his head with this look of amusement. And she said, 'Now it's sweet enough - so pay for it.' "
They were married three years later and had three children. Fanti began his own construction business. He started Homestead Paving and Asphalt and EF Construction of Commack. His hard work and vision enabled the company to grow and branch out to Pompano Beach, Fla., family members said.
He opened Via Veneto Restaurant in Hauppauge in 1979 and sold the business six years later.
"He was a great provider," said his son Joe Fanti of Port Jefferson Station. "He made it his business to always be there for his family."
Fanti, a cancer survivor, had one of his lungs removed in 1970. At 36, his long-term prognosis was grim. "He was 36 years old and told he wasn't going to live much longer," said Nick Fanti, who was 10 years old when his father was diagnosed with cancer.
"But he was my hero. He set the bar for perseverance and faith. He recovered from a stroke in 1997 and had open heart surgery in 2006. Here we are almost 42 years later and to his last breath he continued to battle."
He is survived by his wife of 53 years; his sons, and daughter Lisa Neglia of Fort Salonga; 14 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
A viewing will be 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Clayton Funeral Home, Kings Park. There will be a 9:30 a.m. memorial at St. Joseph's Church in Kings Park on Thursday with burial at Pinelawn Cemetery.