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Everyday Hero: Restaurant owner ‘godsend’ for Gamberi

Michael Kerekes / The Natchez Democrat — Lil Dago’s restaurant owner Modie Mascagni, right, poses with Tony Gamberi Wednesday afternoon at the restaurant. Mascagni took Gamberi, who is autistic, under his wing a year and a half ago, and the two spend a lot of time together doing a variety of activities.

Michael Kerekes / The Natchez Democrat — Lil Dago’s restaurant owner Modie Mascagni, right, poses with Tony Gamberi Wednesday afternoon at the restaurant. Mascagni took Gamberi, who is autistic, under his wing a year and a half ago, and the two spend a lot of time together doing a variety of activities.

NATCHEZ A year and a half ago, Connie Gamberi walked into Lil Dagos’ Italian restaurant looking for some help.

She found what she was looking for after striking up a conversation with restaurant owner Modie Mascagni.

Gamberi’s autistic son, Tony, was in need of someone new with whom to spend time, and Mascagni offered to help. From there, a friendship was struck, and Tony currently spends several days a week with Mascagni and his family.

“He had some things going on at the time, and Modie was the one that came and just took his mind off all of that,” Connie explained.

Mascagni, who owns a flock of racing pigeons, told Connie Tony would be the perfect partner to assist him in keeping up with the pigeons.

“I told Connie I was looking for a little buddy to help with the birds, and I told her to let him come over,” Mascagni said.

Now, in addition to racing pigeons, Tony also spends time with Mascagni fishing, working at Lil Dagos’ and helping Mascagni at his part-time job of driving a school bus in Concordia Parish.

Tony, 21, said he enjoys spending time with Mascagni, since they like to cut up often.

“He’s a friend,” Tony said. “He’s funny. When I say, ‘Modie,’ he says, ‘One day, I’m going to knock you in the head.’ And I’ll say, ‘I’m going to get you, Modie.’”

Mascagni said he and his family love having Tony around and that he brings a lot of joy to everyone.

“He’s so spirit-filled, and he doesn’t even realize it,” Mascagni said. “You can feel God’s presence around him. I run around with him three days a week, and he’s grown to be my best friend. He likes everything I do, and it doesn’t matter what it is, he’s in for it.”

Whether it’s working at the restaurant or on the school bus, Mascagni said Tony acts as his security detail to make sure everyone stays in line.

“On the first day on the job (at the restaurant), I told Tony I’d leave him here with the girls while I went to the store really fast,” Mascagni said. “When I got back, he said, ‘That one said a curse word, that one was texting and that one was smoking a cigarette.’ Every time he opens his mouth, you never know what’s coming out.”

Tony referred to himself as Mascagni’s enforcer and shared owner of Lil Dagos’.

“Modie’s in charge, but I own the place, too,” Tony explained. “I’m the assistant manager. I like to make coffee, keep my eye on the girls and make sure they do right, because they need to take orders and give the customers what they need.”

Not even Mascagni has escaped Tony’s eyes and ears.

“If you say a curse word, he’ll call you out on it,” Mascagni said. “I didn’t realized I cursed so much until I was around him.”

Connie said she couldn’t be more grateful to Mascagni for his ability to work with Tony and make life easier for her and her husband, John.

“He’s been a godsend to me,” Connie said. “I can’t put into words what all he’s done. Tony doesn’t take change very well because he’s autistic, and one time we got a new truck, and we usually go through hell with something new. But Modie made it to where it was so smooth. He accepted the truck and wanted to go riding in the truck. (Modie) just knows how to work with him and make things better for us.”

And before Tony goes to bed each night, he makes sure to call Mascagni and ask for a “goodnight” and “I love you” from his older buddy.

“Of course, you’ll hear it from him tenfold,” Mascagni said.