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Alberta Avenue community rallies to support restaurants damaged by fire

Battista Vecchio (L) and Conroy "Roy" Smith, the owners of Battista's Calzones and Flava Café. Source: GoFundMe

The Alberta Avenue community has rallied behind two local restaurants after a shed adjacent to their property caught on fire and spread to the restaurants.

Battista’s Calzones and Flava Café are located in the same building at 118 Avenue and 83 Street. On April 15, Edmonton Fire Rescue Services said crews were called to the area at around 11:19 p.m. to a “fully involved” shed fire directly behind the restaurants, which spread to their building.

“I got a call from a neighbour, saying: ‘Your restaurant’s on fire,'” said Battista Vecchio, the owner of both the building and Battista’s Calzones. “So I raced over. The fire department was already there extinguishing the fire.”

“The fire came through an opening in the building — other than that, it’s a cinderblock building — so it came through that opening, and it was 10 feet around that opening and upward that it caused fire damage.”

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Read more: Suspected arson the leading cause of fires in Alberta Avenue: Edmonton Fire Rescue Services

Officials said the fire was out at 12:19 a.m., and the cause is still being investigated.

A photo of the a shed destroyed by fire near Battista's Calzones on 118 Avenue in Edmonton.
A shed that was destroyed in a fire spread to a building that houses two popular Edmonton restaurants. Courtesy / Battista Vecchio

Following the fire, both restaurants had to close to repair and clean up the damage. Vecchio said he rents out part of his building to Flava Café — owned by Conroy “Roy” Smith — but has told them they will not have to pay rent this month.

After the fire, a GoFundMe was started to help offset some of the costs and loss of business to the restaurants during their closure. It has, so far, raised more than $9,000 to help the two restaurants.

“I’ve been getting calls left and right: ‘How can I help?’ for the last week and a half,” Vecchio said.

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“In times like this — and I just lost my dad two weeks ago — but in times like this I’m so grateful that I have beautiful friends. They came over, and rolled up their sleeves and started working and cleaning.

“I’ve never really had this experience before. But I’m really proud and grateful to have this support.”

Battista’s Calzones is one of two businesses damaged in an Alberta Avenue fire. Courtesy / Battista Vecchio
Battista's Calzones damage
Fire damage inside Battista’s Calzones. Courtesy / Battista Vecchio

Crime, vandalism a ‘problem’ in neighbourhood

The Alberta Avenue neighbourhood has seen an increase in crime and fires in abandoned buildings in recent months.

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Earlier in April, the Alberta Avenue Community League linked the crime and arson to the large number of derelict properties in the area, some of which have been empty for decades.

Vecchio said the property that the fire started on is one of those abandoned buildings.

“There are a lot of abandoned homes,” he said. “(People) can cause hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage over nothing — over vandalism, or that type of crime. And it’s getting worse.”

Read more: Edmonton’s Alberta Avenue community desperate for help after spike in crime

However, Vecchio said he remains optimistic about the community.

“What I’m doing (at Battista’s Calzones), I love and I love the people, so I would always be optimistic,” he said. “But now, I am still optimistic, but it did directly affect me.”

Vecchio added he hopes to reopen sometime next week.

–With files from Sarah Reid, Global News

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