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Local restaurateur Frank Purita remembered as giving man who loved food, people and music

Every village has its known characters; the residents or business owners you see every day, who become ingrained in a community’s identity.

Frank Purita, who died Tuesday at the age of 53 after a short battle with cancer, was one of those people in the Village of Greenport, friends and family members said this week.

The chef and restaurateur, who spent the better part of four decades working in restaurants across Long Island, was remembered this week for his skills in the kitchen, his love of music and, perhaps most of all, his generosity.

“It doesn’t matter where you go, everyone knows Frank,” said his sister Virginia Scudder of Aquebogue. “Whether it’s how he jumped someone’s car, gave them a couple of bucks or cooked them dinner, Frank always went above and beyond for other people.”

The owner of D’latte Café in Greenport, Mr. Purita could often be seen playing his guitar. A fan of The Beatles, he enjoyed sharing his love of music with others, when he wasn’t busy talking to them about everyday life or filling their bellies with his trademark baked goods and gelato, friends recalled.

“I remember the first time I saw him, I was having a cup of coffee and he came by with a gelato cart,” recalled Greenport resident Gary Charters. “I said, ‘Who the hell is this guy?’ ”

Pretty soon, everyone would know Frank.

“He was one of the good guys,” said village resident and fellow small business owner Eileen Kapell. “There’s not many in the world, and he was.”

Born in Calabria in southern Italy, Mr. Purita came to this country with his parents at age 9. The eldest of three children born to Fiore and Maria Purita, he attended high school in Baldwin and worked in restaurants most of his life.

Together with his wife, Claudia Purita, he ran eateries in Rockville Centre, Carle Place, Oceanside and Dix Hills, before the couple made their way out to the North Fork nearly two decades ago.

Ms. Kapell said she didn’t know Mr. Purita to sit idle and in him she saw someone who was always evolving as a chef and businessman, “thinking outside the box.” The Puritas previously owned Café Mediterranean in Mattituck and Sasuke and Biere in Greenport. They transformed the latter into The Half Note jazz spot in 2018, when they also opened Greenport Distilling on nearby Carpenter Street. He partnered in his recent ventures with his daughters Gabriella and Maria, as well as Claudia, the owner of One Woman Vineyards in Southold, where the family lives.

The pursuit of owning a winery was one of the primary factors in bringing the family to the North Fork, Ms. Scudder said.

Many Greenport residents expressed shock when learning the news of Mr. Purita’s death this week. He was only diagnosed with bile duct cancer in December, Ms. Scudder said.

Friends and neighbors have flooded social media in the days since with offerings of remembrance and sharing tales of the times Mr. Purita greeted them with warmth and support.

His sister pointed to one woman she’d never met before who recalled a time Mr. Purita bought her and all her bridesmaids a glass of champagne in a toast to her upcoming nuptials. Another favorite story is when her brother served up free meals to first responders and their families out of his former restaurant Paradiso in Rockville Centre in the days following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“He was just so passionate about helping people,” Ms. Scudder said, adding that her brother was known for so much more than his cooking and work ethic. “He was also a philosopher, a mediator and the kind of guy who could talk to anybody.”

Visitors will be received today, Friday, May 3, from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at DeFriest-Grattan Funeral Home in Southold.

The Liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. this Saturday, May 4, at St. Agnes R.C. Church in Greenport, with Father Richard Hoerning officiating. Interment will follow at St. Agnes R.C. Cemetery in Greenport.

In posts on the Facebook pages of the family’s businesses, it was requested that “gifts made in memory of Frank Purita may be directed to support cholangiocarcinoma (or bile duct, whichever you prefer) research as directed by Dr. Nilofer Azad at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Checks can be made payable to Johns Hopkins University indicating the gift’s designation and mailed to Kimmel Cancer Center, PO Box 17029, Baltimore MD 21297. Gifts can also be made online: https://secure.jhu.edu/form/kimmel.”

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