Ryan Boeve met Arthur Lopes in December 1998, when Boeve was working as the chef at Ophelia's on the Bay on Siesta Key. The restaurant needed a pastry chef, and someone recommended Lopes. He got the job, but Lopes wasn't just the pastry chef. During the day, he'd prep desserts, then spend his evenings at the host stand, greeting guests with his wide, friendly smile.
"When you watched him in the dining room, you knew that was his real calling," says Boeve. "He loved people so much and just wanted the guests to be happy. He had a knack for remembering names of guests, their children and grandchildren."
It was that warm presence that endeared Lopes to many in Sarasota, particularly in the city's food world. And when he died last week at age 59, from cancer, it was what his many friends and family paid tribute to, calling him a "sweet, generous soul," an "amazing spirit" and a "kind and wonderful man."
Dawn Lombard, Lopes' niece, says Lopes, who didn't have children of his own, was known as "Uncle Buddy" and was "the guiding force in our family." Lopes' family came from Cape Verde, a small archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean near Africa. He grew up on Cape Cod. Lopes' mother died when Lopes was young.
"He had an overwhelming gratitude for everyone and everything in his life," says Lombard. "He exuded positivity and radiated hope, despite a life filled with tragedy, heartache, loss and setbacks from the time he was a child. Many people in the same situation might become bitter or lose their humanity, but not him."
Boeve and Lopes eventually left Ophelia's and together opened Zoria on Hillview Street in Sarasota, launching a partnership that lasted decades. Zoria later moved to Main Street and was eventually revamped into Main Street Oyster Bar. The two later opened Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar in the Rosemary District, and then Lila in downtown Sarasota.
From the beginning, Boeve says, Lopes insisted on giving back, and he spent his time supporting the Bradenton charter school Visible Men Academy, which concentrates on teaching at-risk elementary-age children, as well as Giving Hunger the Blues and other causes.
Lopes fell ill with pneumonia early this year, and a followup test revealed cancer in his lungs and brain. He underwent surgery in May. A GoFundMe campaign raised $41,000 to assist Lopes, and special dinners at Lila helped cover some of his bills. But he contracted pneumonia again, and his weakened immune system wasn't able to fight off the illness.
"He was an incredible chef and restaurateur," says Lombard, "but his best quality, by far, was his ability to show love to others. To say he was kind, loving and generous doesn't begin to describe the magnitude of the beautiful light that he was."
Asked what he will miss most about Lopes, Boeve says, "Everything. He was my brother."