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Restaurant Owner Reflects On Pulse Nightclub Massacre 5 Years Later
Pizza Time Caffe Owner Mark Papaleo and his sister Barbara Poma, owner of the Pulse nightclub. {courtesy family}

By: Bryan Boggiano

Five years after the deadly massacre left 49 people dead at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, the memory of that night and the aftermath continue. 

Parkland’s Pizza Time Caffe and the family who owns it have a deeply personal connection to the nightclub.

Owner Mark Papaleo is the brother of Barbara Poma, who opened the club in 2004.  The club was in memory of their brother, John, who died in 1991 from AIDS-related complications. The name Pulse was meant to symbolize his heartbeat, which lived on through the club. 

Pulse was the site of the deadliest mass shooting in American history at the time. On June 12, 2016, a gunman killed 49 people and injured more than 50 others — primarily Hispanic and LGBTQ+ people.

“It was my sister’s nightclub. It’s her family business like Pizza Time is my family business,” Papaleo said. “Pulse was created to be a safe place for LGBT people to hang out and be themselves.”

Despite the distance, Papaleo hosted fundraiser events, selling mini champagne bottles and bracelets. Proceeds went to Pulse employees struggling to make ends meet, some of whom were injured. Pizza Time Caffe also donated a portion of all meal sales in the immediate aftermath. 

While they do not host as many fundraisers now, Pizza Time Caffe now promotes the onePULSE Foundation, which raises funds to build a permanent memorial, fund a museum, provide scholarships, and remember the victims’ legacies and their families.

But some things have stayed the same. Since 2016, the restaurant displays a pride flag, a sign with the Pulse logo, and a rainbow barrel. Papaleo said customers often ask him about the restaurant’s connection to the community and Pulse. Each time, it starts a conversation

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The Papaleo Family and Pizza Time staff at the 2016 Pulse Charity Night (Image Taken by Jim Donnelly)

“Seeing a rainbow flag on my door makes people feel included and welcomed. It makes them feel more accepted,” he said. 

For Papaleo, keeping the memory of the 49 victims alive is essential. He said it is crucial to remember their friends and family and remember the struggles LGBTQ people face. 

 “We have to help raise awareness of differences between people and acceptance of them,” he said. “Maybe the more we [accept people], the less hate that there will be out there.”

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Author Profile

Bryan Boggiano
A University of Florida journalism graduate, Bryan plans to pursue geosciences at Florida International University for his master's. He has a strong interest in weather, entertainment, and journalism.

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