Chef needs community's help following brain surgery

Abbondanza kitchen manager Eliezer Espinosa cooks at a Dock to Dish event in Key West.
Abbondanza kitchen manager Eliezer Espinosa cooks at a Dock to Dish event in Key West.

Eliezer Espinosa started out washing dishes at Abbondanza, an Italian restaurant on Simonton Street in Key West.

The 33-year-old kitchen manager was airlifted to Kendall Regional Medical Center on Oct. 4 for brain hemorrhage treatment from a rupture of an undetected brain aneurysm. He was scheduled for brain surgery Tuesday afternoon at Aventura Hospital in Miami-Dade County.

"Something like this happens, you're just like, What the hell just happened? friend and Dock to Dish co-founder Paul Menta said.

Abbondanza manager Crystal Villegas set up a GoFundMe page on Sunday for Espinosa's recovery. The page says "it's a “foreseeable long road" for Espinosa. As of Tuesday afternoon, $1,900 had been raised.

Menta has been friends with Espinosa the past couple of years. He's a frequent buyer of seafood through Dock to Dish, a community membership program that allows consumers to buy fish straight from fishermen after they return from a day on the water. It started in Key West in February.

In recent months, the fish of choice at Abbondanza has been grouper. One of the restaurant's specials is a grouper piccata.

"The guy has a passion for pretty much everything," Menta said.

Villegas said Espinosa runs a "tight ship" in the kitchen and that staff treats each other like family. She said Espinosa is always singing at the top of his lungs.

Menta and Villegas visited Espinosa in the hospital last week. His prognosis a few days prior had been "really bad," Menta said, but he opened his eyes on their morning visit.

"He actually smiled when we saw him, scared the [heck] out of me," Menta said. 

"He's definitely a fighter. He was able to open his eyes and squeeze our hands," Villegas said.

When he's not in the kitchen, Espinosa's daughters, Nahomi, 5, and Natalie, 7, are his life. A collage of family photos shows birthday cakes, Nahomi helping her father out with a chef's apron in the kitchen and, of course, food. "His girls are just like everything in the world," Menta said. 

To donate to Espinosa's recovery fund, visit