Article courtesy of: The Fresno Bee
By Robert Rodriguez

A fire closed popular Five Restaurant in northeast Fresno, CA, on Sept. 16, 2018. LARRY VALENZUELALVALENZUELA@FRESNOBEE.COM

It may take six months before the beloved Five Restaurant, heavily damaged in a Sept. 16 fire, reopens it doors, said owner Pat LaRocca.

The restaurant at Champlain Drive and Perrin Avenue was just a few hours from opening for dinner on a Sunday last month when a fire broke out in the kitchen. Fresno Fire Department investigators said the fire started accidentally in the pizza oven and caused an estimated $300,000 in damage.

LaRocca said the fire caused extensive damage to the kitchen, ducts and roof. Smoke and water also damaged the interior, including carpets, booths and tables.

The reconstruction will give LaRocca the chance to make some changes to the interior including new paint colors.

“The restaurant will get a facelift and Five will be alive again,” he said. “We are hoping to be open by spring of 2019, or sooner.”

LaRocca, who operates the restaurant with wife Marina, said the experience has been traumatic. He recalled standing in the parking lot feeling helpless as fire fighters knocked down the flames and put out the fire. But when he looked around the parking lot, he saw 150 people who looked just as shocked as he was.

“There were people who were just as teary-eyed as I was,” he said. “I had two different couples come to me that night with gloves on asking me what they could do to help. It has been that kind of experience.”

LaRocca said he has realized that what he lost that night was made up for by the kindness of strangers and friends.

“People have just been amazing, I can’t even begin to tell you,” LaRocca said. “We have had so much support from the community that it brings a tear to my eye.”

Among those who have stepped up are local restaurant owners, offering everything from the use of refrigerators to temporary jobs for his staff of nearly 50 workers. Although the restaurant’s insurance policy provides the workers with paychecks, servers only get their base salary. Tips are not covered.

So to help make ends meet, restaurants and caterers, including Pardini’s Catering & Banquets, Fansler Restaurant Group, Elbow Room, Sam’s Italian Deli, Cracked Pepper Bistro, Vino Grille & Spirits, Ovidio Ristorante Italiano, and the Manhattan have all offered his staff work.

Even some of the kitchen staff have taken on day jobs, thanks to LaRocca.

Sous chef Adan Pena said LaRocca found work for him with longtime friend Nick Marziliano, owner of Sam’s Italian Deli. Pena is making pastas, sauces and doing prep work.

“Pat really takes care of his people and I really appreciate that,” Pena said. “I can’t wait to get back to work at the restaurant.”

Marziliano said that when he hired Pena, the cook seemed more worried about LaRocca than his own future. Pena said he called LaRocca the night of the fire and asked if there was anything he could do to help.

“I was really scared and worried for him,” Pena said. “The restaurant is like our family.”

Marziliano said he didn’t hesitate to offer his friend help. And he said he would do the same even if he didn’t know the owner.

“If we don’t help each other out locally, the chain restaurants will eat us up,” Marziliano said. “We may compete against each other, but when it comes down to it we are one big family.”