If you know and love Melbourne, you know Pellegrini’s espresso bar on Bourke Street.
And if you knew Pellegrini’s, then you were best friends with its co-owner, the irrepressible Sisto Malaspina.
Malaspina, 74, has been named as the man stabbed to death by Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, 30, in a knife attack on Bourke late Friday afternoon before the attacker was shot death by Victorian police.
Malaspina left the cafe to help the murderer, thinking he’d had a car accident.
His Somali-born attacker had deliberately crashed his Holden Rodeo near the Swanson Street intersection and then set it on fire.
Instead he was stabbed by Khalif, and despite attempts by emergency workers to save his life, Malaspina, who became a grandfather for the first time on the weekend, died at the scene, his body left on the road covered in a white sheet as the chaos of the terror attack, which saw two others stabbed, unfolded.
Italian-born Sisto Malaspina was a Melbourne institution, just like the 1950s car, with its heritage-listed neon sign, he took over with business partner Nino Pangrazio in 1974.
Pellegrini’s, with its counter seating, daily menu of Italian home cooking – what they call casalinga in Malaspina’s mother tongue – and the ebullient Malaspina behind the counter, was a favourite haunt of politicians, Melbourne’s business powerbrokers, Italophiles and everyone of wanted a taste of the city’s famed cafe culture.
His joy was infectious and left you with an even bigger buzz than his famed coffee.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said it was “shocking, unreal and heartbreaking”.
“I have been visiting Pellegrini’s since school. I just saw Sisto on Monday morning. He insisted I try a slice of his almond cake,” he said.
“He’s a Melbourne icon and a true gentleman. Impossible to imagine the devastation for his family and staff.”
Melbourne food writer Dani Valent also paid tribute to Malaspina on social media.
“Sisto shepherded Melbourne into a new era of cosmopolitan coffee culture and continued to dispense caffeine and generous hospitality with matter-of-fact warmth,” she said.
“He represented all that is great about multicultural Melbourne and the way that simple, daily acts of eating and drinking can connect us. It’s so, so sad that his beautiful life has ended in an act of violence that creates disconnection, suspicion, terror.”
Business partner Nino Pangrazio said it was a sad day for Melbourne calling his collaborator of 44 years a bon vivant.
The pair had known each other for 54 years.
“He was just so happy go lucky and always with a smile. We hardly had a cross word in the whole time we worked together. Just devastated,” Pangrazio told Fairfax Media.
Flowers have been placed outside the restaurant, which is closed as the shock seeps into the city’s closeknit restaurant community.
Interviewed in 2017 about his Melbourne landmark by the trade magazine Hospitality, Malaspina was asked about the future of his restaurant and contemplated his own mortality.
“Had you asked me the same question 20 years ago, I would have answered differently because I thought I was invincible, but as I grow older I realise that I’m not immortal and I’m not invincible,” he said.