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85-year-old Trattoria da Franco owner says he’s got at least five years left in Old Town

After seven years in retirement in Italy, Franco Abbruzzetti is back at Trattoria da Franco in Old Town.

Last fall, the 85-year-old bought back his restaurant at 305 S. Washington Street from Michael Strutton, who bought it in 2017 and renamed it Michael’s Little Italy. Abbruzzetti and his wife moved to Rome, adopted a young boy, Bruno, who is now five years old, and got bored being away from his business.

“Retirement is boring,” Abbruzzetti told ALXnow. “My wife and I have a home in the historical district in Rome, and I got bored so we came back.”

After spending $65,000 on a refurbishment, Abbruzzetti reopened the restaurant in December.

“I’m back in my castle,” he said. “It looks like a little castle, the building, if you look at it from the outside.”

Abbruzzetti first opened the restaurant in 1980. It’s known for its northern Italian fare, as well as opera night with musicians and singers playing operatic hits on the last Sunday of every month.

“You have to love opera, because it’s life,” he said. “Without opera, Italy wouldn’t exist. Three things made Italy — the Roman Empire, the Renaissance with Michelangelo and the other one? Opera.”

The next opera night is on Sunday, May 28.

Abbruzzetti sang in the Vatican choir when he was a boy, under Pope Pius XII. His father was an Italian colonel who became a British prisoner of war and fought alongside German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel during World War II. Abbruzzetti keeps a photo of his uniformed father and Rommel in his restaurant, and says that just as Rommel wanted to oust German dictator Adolf Hitler his father wanted to do the same with Italy’s leader Benito Mussolini.

Abbruzzetti said he stopped singing at the Vatican when his voice changed, after which he moved to Paris, France, with one of his uncles. He then lived in England for 20 years and learned how to cook Italian food working in British restaurants. He then moved to Alexandria in the 1970s with another uncle.

“Everybody says I don’t look my age,” he said. “You have to have a young spirit and a lot of pasta and a glass of wine every day and you will live forever.”

Abbruzzetti says he will think about next steps with his restaurant when he turns 90.

“Why retire again?” he asked. “To play golf? That’s not for me. I have to keep busy and a busy mind is a healthy mind.”

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