By Jim Shilander and Andrea Swayne
Tony Carbonara, one of San Clemente’s most prominent citizens and restaurateurs, died Thursday evening after being hospitalized for a stroke he suffered the previous day.
Carbonara Trattoria was filled with laughter, loud talk, fellowship and shared remembrances Thursday night, the way its owner Carbonara, had always kept it and would have wanted it, said friends.
Traci Daniel, Carbonara’s employee and longtime family friend, said the restaurateur suffered a medial pontine hemorrhagic stroke of the brain stem Wednesday while driving to work just after 9 a.m. In great pain, he had pulled over to the side of Avenida Palizada just after exiting Interstate 5 when a customer recognized him and called 911. The first responders to the scene were also longtime friends, she said.
After arriving at the hospital, Carbonara was placed into a medically induced coma from which he did not awake. Family, friends and employees were all able to say their goodbyes before he was removed from life support at 6 p.m. Thursday. He died shortly thereafter. Carbonara was 59.
Peggy Vance, the executive director of the San Clemente Ocean Festival, said the city had rarely had a greater supporter.
“Tony is everybody’s friend,” Vance said. “His heart was bigger than anybody’s. I can’t imagine San Clemente without Tony. His generosity was beyond measure. His love for his family and his community were unsurpassed. I’m going to miss him a lot. There’s definitely going to be a void.”
Tom McKeown got to know Carbonara the way many in San Clemente had, by meeting him at his restaurant. McKeown said he and his wife stopped in the first week it was open.
“We got to be very good friends,” McKeown said. “Tony is Mr. San Clemente. He has done so much for this city, just by being a sponsor for so many events. He just constantly gives. He always has.”
McKeown and Vance were among several dozen who’d gathered at the Trattoria Thursday to celebrate Carbonara’s life and mourn his loss.
“This is very much a Carbonara’s evening,” McKeown said. “There are a lot of people having a good time, good food and a lot of noise.”
Carbonara Trattoria, at 111 Avenida Del Mar, has been a popular downtown dining destination for over 20 years.
Carbonara was also one of the most popular caterers in south Orange County and was well known throughout the area.
San Clemente Mayor Bob Baker issued a statement Friday via email calling Carbonara a friend and an important part of the fabric of the city.
“Tony Carbonara was an institution in San Clemente. If there was a civic event or fundraiser, everyone knew they could count on Carbonara’s to go above and beyond. I was proud to call him a friend; and his many friends are going to miss him dearly,” Baker wrote. “Sincerest condolences go out to the Carbonara family from the Baker family and from all the residents of San Clemente. It’s a sad day for all of San Clemente.”