COCOA BEACH - The dinner guests at Silvestro's were quiet and relaxed, ready to sit down for sophisticated Italian fare on white-clothed tables.
"I think everyone deserves a second chance," said Kay Getsinger of Cocoa.
The owners of the restaurant decided to donate proceeds from Sunday night's dinner to the Nowak family. That use has yet to be decided, said Tony Bless, co-owner of the restaurant.
Nowak, a NASA astronaut, was arrested last week on attempted murder charges after allegedly attacking a perceived romantic rival in an Orlando International Airport parking lot.
Even as FLORIDA TODAY message boards lit up with protesters and naysayers, questioning the restaurant for supporting a "criminal," the restaurant expected to fill reservations for 70 by the end of the night, Bless said. The restaurant seats 75.
"We're pretty much at capacity," Bless said, adding that he usually seats about 30 guests on a typical Sunday night.
Bless said he didn't expect the response generated by his small advertisement in the newspaper. He's gotten supportive out-of-state calls and e-mails, some from as far away as Italy. He's also gotten interest from national media, including "Inside Edition," and "Fox & Friends."
He said he just thought it was the right thing to do for a woman who made a positive impression on his staff when she dined there last summer.
"We stand by our friends in time of need, and it's a time of need," he said.
At about 5 p.m., diners started filing into the intimate restaurant tucked in the Banana River Plaza, each expecting to spend up to $75 on dinner. To the left of the double mahogany doors hung a small, smiling portrait of Nowak in her astronaut gear.
Some diners didn't even know the restaurant existed before hearing about the event.
"It seemed like the compassionate thing to do," said Janet Ritzi of Readfield, Maine, who's staying in Melbourne Beach on vacation. "Just as a human being, may we all be so considerate."
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