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Papa Joe’s owners looking to rebuild, reopen

By Staff | Jun 2, 2015

Early Tuesday evening, Joni Durante and her grandson sat on the front porch of Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria and turned away a couple who walked up wondering if they were open.

“I’ve had tons of people stop by,” Durante, owner of the nearly 25-year-old business, said.

At 9:27 p.m. Sunday, the Cape Fire Department responded to a commercial structure fire at the restaurant, at 814 E. Cape Coral Parkway. Upon arrival, moderate grey smoke was observed coming from all of the vents on the roof, with limited visibility through the venue’s front glass windows.

Upon entry through the front, it was determined that the fire was located in the rear of the business. Firefighters attacked from the rear and fully extinguished the flames in 15 to 20 minutes. An inspection determined that the fire was accidental and the point of origin was above and around the pizza oven.

Officials reported that neither the pizza oven nor electrical could be eliminated as the source.

“They’re so close together that we really couldn’t tell which one was the start point,” Andrea Schuch, spokeswoman for the Cape Coral Fire Department, said Tuesday. “It’s one of those two.”

The venue has been yellow-tagged by a building inspector.

“There is limited access to the building – you can’t open for business,” she said. “The owners have limited access with the people who are helping them rebuild.”

Schuch added that the investigation into the fire has been completed.

“As of now, it’s turned over to the owner for repairs with their insurance company,” she said.

The insurance adjustors is what Durante and her grandson, CJ Giuliano, were waiting on Tuesday evening as the couple wandered up with questions. Durante explained to them about the fire.

“It’s not what we wanted, that’s for sure,” she said.

Open since 1990, the restaurant was coming up on its 25th anniversary in November.

“It’s my baby,” Durante said, tears coming to her eyes.

The family first learned that something was wrong Sunday when a friend called and reported seeing smoke coming from the building. Durante said one of the police officers fortunately turned off the gas.

“If he didn’t do that, there’s a possibility it could have blown up,” she said.

Two days after the fire and the family is still in shock.

“It’s quite devastating,” Durante said.

Officials have estimated that the damage is approximately $250,000.

The insurance inspectors have mentioned replacing the trusses and part of the roof. The electric and plumbing needs to be done, and it appears all of the kitchen equipment will need to be replaced.

“Most of it’s not recoverable,” she said of the items.

Battalion Chief Matthew Canham reported that firefighters were able to contain the flames to the kitchen area and kept them from spreading to the rest of the structure, protecting nearby buildings.

Durante noted that the dining room sustained only smoke and water damage.

The family is pushing to move through the rebuild – insurance, permitting, contractors.

“Hopefully, they’re going to expedite all that,” she said.

“If we could work on it 24/7 right now, I’d be doing that,” Durante added.

There has been an outpouring of support from the community.

“They want to see us back,” she said. “We’ve been part of the community for years. We’re a staple.”

Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria currently employs more than a dozen people.

“I have some business interruption insurance,” Durante said, noting that she also recommended her employees apply for unemployment in the meantime, though they do have to wait a week or so.

“We’re going to come back as fast as we can,” she said. “That’s what you hope for.”