Seventeen-year-old Harris Halperin was a huge fan of Guy Fieri’s Food Network show “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
A year ago Harris was diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma cancer. During his treatments, and unknown to his family, Harris made plans to visit as many Diners Drive-Ins and Dives restaurants he could once he got better. These plans gave him hope that he was going to beat his cancer and get on with life. Sadly, Harris succumbed to his cancer a few months ago.
After Harris passed away, his parents, Jennifer and Dave, found a trip itinerary on his laptop that he planned to make with them once he got better. One of the places on the list was Italian Express Pizzeria in East Boston and he was excited to try the Frutti Di Mare that he saw Fieri eating on Triple Ds. His parents decided to take the trip he planned as a way to honor him and his last wishes.
“Recently, we were contacted by the Food Network to let us know about a very special person,” said Italian Express’s Jonathan Harker. “Harris Halperin, a huge fan of Guy Fieri and Triple D’s passed away a few months ago from a rare form of lymphoma cancer. He was very passionate about food and making these plans gave both him and his family hope during this very difficult time. He was very active in high school and loved by many in his Ardsley, New York community and surrounding areas.”
Last Thursday Harris’s parents Jennifer and Dave went to Itlaian Express with their friends to have the meal Harris had planned for himself and his family. Harris’s brother Matthew was at summer camp and did not attend, but called the family on video chat during the meal.
“Before the family arrived, we set up the table with blue and yellow flowers and balloons, which are the high-school colors that Harris attended,” said Harker.
In addition to the decorations Italian Express owners Harker and Jim Iannuzzi left a seat empty and reserved for Harris next to his mother.
“We brought out the Frutti Di Mare that he planned on having had he been there as an additional gesture to honor him,” said Harker. “We poured all of the love, light and kindness we could into making sure his parents and their friends had a memorable and restorative experience.”
Harker said cancer hits very close to home because Iannuzzi is a cancer survivor.
“We have met countless people battling this horrible disease and lost both family members and friends,” said Harker. “During the course of the evening, many tears were shed and stories exchanged. It’s difficult to put into words exactly what transpired, but our intention is that this story will give people hope that life goes on and also there is still so much love and support out there. Food has a way of bringing people together and can help heal our wounds and conditions.”
Harker said Italian Express has a sign that hangs over its front door that says, “Enter as strangers, leave as friends.”
“That is what happened last Thursday night with the Halperin family and so much more,” said Harker. “Harris did not waste a second of his life and made plans up until the very end. Much can be learned from his life about being fully present and not taking anything for granted. We are inspired by his bravery and it was a blessing to be part of the Halperin family’s journey.”