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Sitting down at Ara's favorite lunch spot

MISHAWAKA, Ind. - Every Wednesday at noon for the past six years, Ara Parseghian and his fellow ROMEOs ate lunch at Papa Vino’s. ABC 57 takes you back to his booth as staff share memories of their longtime customer.

An unassuming booth in a local family restaurant once sat a living legend.

“Ara and his three other friends, Jim Gibbons, Roger Valdiserri, and Art Decio have been coming in for close to six years now,” said Papa Vino’s General Manager, Nick Freitag.

The ROMEOs, as they called themselves, which stands for Retired Old Men Eating Out, ate lunch at the same corner table in Papa Vino’s every Wednesday at noon.

“He’s been sitting in this same seat here for those six years,” said Freitag—being served by the same waitress.

“It was a pleasure actually, being able to take care of them every Wednesday. I looked forward to it, and they’ll definitely be missed,” said their server, Merry Hivick.

“For me, the nice thing when he would come in, he was usually a half hour early, so I liked to sit where you’re sitting now, and just keep him company, but I got to hear some great storiesabout when he was with the Browns or when he was coaching Miami or Northwestern, or obviously Notre Dame,” said Freitag.

“He was the sweetest guy, really nice, really funny, kind to everybody. I mean so respected, and everybody knew this was Ara’s booth, anybody that came in on a Wednesday, you know look over this way, but everyone left him in peace, let him eat,” said Hivick.

His go-to order was the tomato basil bisque with extra croutons.

While others will of course fill that seat, Manager Nick Freitag says no one will ever be able to fill Ara’s shoes.

“He’s not just a South Bend guy. He’s national, with coaching everybody knows him still. He’s been out of coaching for forty years. When I think of a Notre Dame football coach, he’s the first one that comes to my mind,” he said.

“He was a legend. I feel honored to have known him,” said Hivick.

“In this area, Ara Parseghian’s everything, so just to have a person of his stature to come in here, once would have been a big deal, but to have him come in as often as he did, and it still was a big deal for me, from the day he started to the last day he came in,” said Freitag.

Papa Vino’s says they might add a plaque to Parseghian’s booth so that everyone knows that’s where Ara ate.

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