A missing Hilton Head Island, South Carolina chef was found more than a week after he went missing. Fifty-year-old Michael J. Cirafesi is the award-winning executive chef at Ombra. He was last seen last Saturday night (October 28, 2023) – and last heard from on Halloween evening.
On Monday, the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) aviation unit conducted an aerial search of the beaches and areas around Cirafesi’s home, according to major Angela Viens, BCSO public information officer. Investigators were also scouring his phone records and internet history.
“Investigators are currently working very diligently to find him,” Viens said earlier this week.
On Wednesday morning (November 8, 2023) at approximately 11:15 a.m. EDT, those efforts paid off. Cirafesi was “located safe and unharmed,” according to the sheriff’s office. No further information was provided, but BCSO personnel indicated he was found in the Sea Pines community where he lives.
“We appreciate the public’s assistance,” the agency noted in its two-sentence update on the situation.
BCSO has not elaborated as to why it termed Cirafesi “endangered” during its search for him. However, social media posts from people close to him expressed concerns over his mental health.
“The system has failed him time and time again,” a friend of Cirafesi wrote on social media. “We’ve all been trying to get him help for months! They just keep letting him out to get worse and worse.”
The friend added “we are all completely devastated that he hasn’t been found and we fear the worst.”
Cirafesi’s wife, Lauren, confirmed this with a post on her Facebook page.
“Michael has struggled with some serious mental health issues and his condition got worse in May of this year,” she wrote. “I have tried repeatedly to get professional help for him and his condition never seemed to improve significantly despite these efforts.”
Cirafesi grew up in Pennsylvania and was classically trained in Philadelphia. Upon graduation, he went to work for his mentor Nunzio Patruno at a restaurant called Primavera.
While visiting South Carolina, CIrafesi found the local Italian offerings lacked authenticity – and saw an opportunity to serve a new market. Twenty years later, with ties to three high-end establishments, Cirafesi had changed the landscape for fine dining options in the Palmetto Lowcountry.
In 2002, Cirafesi moved to Hilton Head Island with his then-wife, Jill Marie Boyd Cirafesi. He opened a restaurant called Michael Anthony’s with investor Anthony Fazzini.
In pursuit of a dream “of his own” – and with the encouragement of his mentor – Cirafesi opened Ombra in November 2012 with Patruno and his new wife, Lauren Loadholt Cirafesi.
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Cirafesi and his wife – a bona fide Hilton Head power couple – became the subjects of glamorous magazine articles showcasing their restaurant and family, which included six sons. In addition to Ombra, each have their own separate business interests. Lauren Cirafesi is part owner of Mexico Bay Farms in Allendale, S.C. Meanwhile, Michael owns C2B2, LLC, which is registered in South Carolina as a foreign corporation with headquarters in Tennessee.
The family’s glamorous life was not free from difficulty, though – including a hit-and-run accident that severely injured one of their older children in 2021. Nineteen-year-old Laer Hohmann – Lauren’s son from a prior marriage – was hospitalized with significant injuries following a March 2021 incident which occurred in the Five Points district of Columbia, S.C. Newspaper accounts at the time described Lauren as a single mother.
Family court records indicate the couple filed for a separation in 2018.
Despite these filings, earlier this year the couple purchased a home at 36 Full Sweep, Hilton Head Island. In July, corporate filings on record with the S.C. secretary of state’s office reflected a change in Ombra’s leadership. Lauren Cirafesi was designated as the corporation’s registered agent – a role previously filled by Michael.
At this point, there’s no indication any of these public filings offering glimpses into the life of the restaurant entrepreneur will yield clues as to his unexplained disappearance. Nonetheless, count on this media outlet to continuing to follow any breadcrumbs which could lead to information as to what led to his
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher, and author whose investigative work can be found in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world – most recently in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde and a German documentary for ProSieben. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.
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