To understand why people love DaDa's, Tom Amico says, you have to turn back the clock.
"Going back years ago in Port Chester, there were neighborhoods that had their own names. This is Edgeland. Down the road, at the traffic light near the [Holy Rosary] church, that was Bowery," Amico said, gesturing east as he stood at the counter of DaDa Radice's on Wednesday.
"Each one of those places had their own coffee hang-outs. This is the last one that exists," he said. "The last one. When this goes, there is no other. So this has a lot of special meaning for a lot of people."
Along with history, tradition and old neighborhood ties, there's another big reason neighbors love the small coffee and convenience shop – the guy behind the counter.
A week after a Midland Avenue fire , Daniel "DaDa" Radice, 79, sat behind the counter of his shop and tugged at the brim of his Korean War veterans cap while four neighbors leaned against newspaper stands, talking "just the BS."
"Very close, very close!" Radice said. "Boy, that was a fire."
Radice, who has been operating the shop by his estimation for "50 or 60 years," described a worrying morning that started with panic and saw him watching flames creep toward his business and home – which are in the same building – from almost a block away because the smoke was so heavy.
On Wednesday, he chatted behind the counter with Luis Marino, a trustee and firefighter who has been a regular at the shop for a decade. He's effusive in his praise of the firefighters from Port Chester and surrounding towns, who worked through dangerous fire conditions to keep the flames at bay.
"They had to go through hell, but they did it," he said.
Behind the shop, a volunteer in a full-body suit and mask was helping clear debris from parts of the building that had been doused by water and licked by flames. Radice lives there, and a week later his apartment remains a soggy mess, with croaking, waterlogged floor boards, chipping plaster and a pervasive, musty smell of smoke and damp furniture. In the hallway leading to the apartment, a young Pope John Paul II – "My man!" Radice says – smiles down from a peeling, poster-size photo.
Is Radice still sleeping in the ruined apartment?
"I shouldn't, but I am," he said.
The fire has had other tragic consequences, including heavy damage to nearby Cafe Roma and the displacement of two families, both with young children. The community has banded together to help those families – after putting them up in the Carver Center after the fire, neighbors chipped in to help them look for new apartments, and the Port Chester Fire Department is hosting a fund-raiser and collection drive for the families this Sunday.
For those families, and long-time neighbors who were regulars at Cafe Roma and DaDa's, last week's fire was a tough ordeal.
"It was smoldering, and I said to myself, 'It's gonna burn all the way to the ground,'" said John Brown, another long-time customer. "I said, I just hope DaDa's store doesn't go. If his store is gone, DaDa's finished."
But for the regulars, a group of neighbors who assemble in the store every morning for conversation that "goes from politics to nonsense and beyond," there's a happy ending.
"It's just the BS every morning amongst ourselves," Amico said. "It starts off the day and you walk out of here with a smile or shaking your head. It's just a cool place to hang out early in the morning, have coffee and start the day off right."
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