Fire destroys Chicago restaurant

March 27, 2009 8:40:25 PM PDT
Investigators are trying to figure out what caused a fire that destroyed a popular neighborhood restaurant Friday.Firefighters managed to save the buildings next to Caffe Italia on Chicago's Northwest Side, but the 45-year-old business was lost.

The front wall of the building was about all that was left late Friday night. Caffe Italia was a popular place in the neighborhood, known for its good Italian coffee and good food. However, it is now out of business for the foreseeable future.

The fire started just before 5 p.m., before the usual dinnertime crowd. Fortunately, everyone was able to get out of the building.

As flames shot through the roof, the restaurant's owner could do nothing but watch helplessly as his business for the last 45 years literally went up in smoke.

"I never expected this," owner Giuseppe Lollino said. "But what are you going to do?"

Lollino had been at the restaurant most of day but left to have dinner with his mother-in-law and was gone when the fire started.

Firefighters say they were on the scene within two minutes of getting the call, but the fire spread quickly. The truss roof complicated the efforts of the firefighters.

"Truss roof presents quite a bit of problems because, when it begins to fail, it fails like dominoes. It escalates and creates huge problems for us," said Chicago Fire Department Dist. Chief Jerome Shelton.

More than 100 firefighters were called to the scene. They managed to keep the damage contained to the restaurant, protecting nearby buildings.

Authorities were just beginning to investigate the cause late Friday.

Meanwhile, Caffe Italia's owner says he hopes for answers.

" I wish I was here. I wish my mother-in-law never invited me to dinner because I would know how this started," Lollino said.

Lollino also said he had no idea what he was going to do next. He said he did have insurance but that cannot begin to replace the decades of memories and history at the restaurant.