Nate "Puppy" Real, a well-liked manager at The Mansion, was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver early Saturday morning on U.S. 1 in downtown Melbourne — leaving staffers reeling from the tragedy.
"Devastated. Devastated," said Jean Farrish, who owns The Mansion with her husband, Jim.
"We had a meeting yesterday. And they fell down on their knees, crying their little hearts out," Farrish said Sunday, fighting back tears.
"Our kitchen staff, they cooked his favorite meal and put it out and lit candles in the kitchen," Farrish said. "Because every single one of those guys was in tears."
Real, 28, of Melbourne was fatally struck about 2 a.m. on U.S. 1 between New Haven and Strawbridge avenues, Melbourne police said Saturday.
The unidentified driver fled the scene. Detectives believe the suspect was driving a red 2007 to 2013 model-year GMC Sierra, or a similar truck, with front-end damages.
Saturday, police distributed a photo of a red GMC Sierra to media to try to generate tips from the public. Police ask anyone with information to call traffic homicide investigators at 321-616-6118.
No further details on the fatal crash were available Sunday, and detectives were seeking video surveillance footage from businesses near the crash scene, Melbourne Police Cmdr. Mark Renkens said.
"I had the opportunity the night he passed to spend 45 minutes chatting with him out at the hostess stand — never knowing it would be our last conversation," Jean Farrish said.
Jim Farrish said Real started working at The Mansion in July 2019 as a manager trainee. Real previously worked at Nobu Miami, and he studied the restaurant business at the University of Central Florida.
Crash happened along the edge of one of Brevard's highest-crash road corridors
The crash happened along the edge of one of Brevard County's highest-crash road corridors.
The stretch of U.S. 1 from Strawbridge Avenue northward to Sarno Road in Melbourne generates about 140 crashes per year. That's the fourth-highest total of any corridor in the county, the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization reported last month.
"It's just a tough stretch of road to mix people and cars," Renkens said.
Jim Farrish is past chairman of the Melbourne Main Street board of directors. He said he has had conversations with Melbourne City Hall officials about dangers posed by U.S. 1.
"Downtown goes to Front Street. It goes down in the south to (Riverview) Park. And The Mansion's downtown — but there's this big freeway that separates it from downtown," Jim Farrish said. "And I used to always say, 'Somebody's going to get killed trying to cross that road.' Because the cross signals are so poor, and it's so bad."
Last week, the Space Coast TPO conducted Brevard's first World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims ceremony. Organizers placed 400 paper luminaries around the reflecting pool at the Government Center in Viera.
— Space Coast TPO (@SpaceCoastTPO) November 21, 2021
From 2016-20, about 400 motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes across Brevard.
Nick Martin, a server at The Mansion and aspiring sommelier, bonded with Real over their Miami roots. He said Real's favorite dish was tenderloin tacos.
"He would greet guests during COVID and always say, 'Welcome home,'" Martin said.
"Nate — or Puppy, as we referred to him — was one of the biggest positive forces that glued our (work) family together," he said.
Nicholas Hendler Jr., a shift lead at The Mansion, reported directly to Real on the job.
“He was my boss, but outside of work we were very close. I actually gave him my application when I started working at The Mansion. He started working here a few months before I did, and we immediately clicked with each other," Hendler said.
“He loved his work family very much, cared for us all. He genuinely just wanted to make all those around him happy."
Brevard's top 5 crash corridors
1. U.S. 192 from Wickham Road to Babcock Street (173 annual crashes).
2. North Courtenay Parkway from State Road 520 to State Road 528 (148 annual crashes).
3. Babcock Street from Palm Bay Road to U.S. 192 (146 annual crashes).
4. (tie) U.S. 1 from Strawbridge Avenue to Sarno Road (140 annual crashes).
4. (tie) Palm Bay Road from Minton Road to Hollywood Boulevard (140 annual crashes).
5. U.S. 1 from Sarno Road to the Pineda Causeway (136 annual crashes).
Source: Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization
This article originally appeared on Florida Today: The Mansion 'devastated' by Nate Real's death in hit-and-run crash in downtown Melbourne