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New Brunswick restaurant owner keeps the faith amid COVID-19

A New Brunswick restaurant owner who overcame a history of drug addiction is unwilling to let the pandemic spoil his dreams.

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Nestled along Main street in the quiet village of Hillsborough, N.B., sits Rocco’s Cucina restaurant.

Rocco Agostini, who moved to New Brunswick in 2008, opened the restaurant in the village in the fall of 2018. He said he almost stopped in his tracks when he drove past the property for sale while on a motorcycle tour through the small village.

“I got a chill through my body right when I saw it and I said, ‘Here it is,’” said Agostini, who grew up in Toronto, the son of parents who immigrated to Canada from Italy in the 1950s.

“It has always been about grassroots Italian and here we are.”

Having worked for restaurants in Toronto for years, he said he has finally fulfilled a lifelong dream of owning his own restaurant. He opened the doors in the fall of 2018 and just over a year later, the unexpected happened: the pandemic hit.

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“The last year has been tough for everybody. Of course, you know, everybody has their highs and lows for sure,” said his wife Emily Agostini, who said her husband knows all about surviving lows.

“He persevered and he still preserves.”

Rocco said that while working as a cook in Toronto, his life took a bad turn.

“Drug addiction and alcoholism within kitchens and stuff like that and I got sucked into it and it was just to the point that my drug addiction was consuming,” he said.

He said he found sobriety through a program called Teen Challenge, where he met his now-wife of 12 years. He has been sober now for almost 14 years and said he is unwilling to let the pandemic spoil his dream.

Even amid COVID-19 business shutdowns and border closures and a lack of tourism traffic driving past his restaurant over the last year, he keeps going.

“If it wasn’t for people supporting local and the dedication this year would have been very different for our family,” said Emily, who said the couple are incredibly grateful for the support from the surrounding communities.

Being unable to see his parents still in Toronto has been rough, said Rocco, who said his heart goes out to his friends and family back home in Toronto.

“Hopefully when things get better they will be able to come and visit and see what I have done out here,” he said.

He said his restaurant has had to make some changes to adjust to the pandemic. He said people now need a reservation to dine for dinner in the six-table restaurant that specializes in authentic Italian cuisine. Rocco says he is grateful to be living in a province with such supportive people.

“This won’t stop me. If I can overcome drug addiction with the help of the holy spirits, piece of cake.”

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