POLK TWP., Pa. - Investigators are trying to figure out what sparked a huge fire that destroyed a longtime Poconos restaurant Sunday morning.
The fire at Luna Rossa Café on U.S. 209 in Gilbert, Monroe County, started around 4:30 a.m. It was just two hours after workers left for the night.
"All of a sudden, the whole middle of the building was just in flames," said Denise Averill, who lives across the road. "It was pouring up -- big, dark cloud of black smoke."
Neighbors in the tiny town were stunned to watch the landmark eatery, which has gone by several names over the decades, go up in flames. It was a well-known late night hangout, neighbors said.
"That building's been here for -- well, longer than I've been alive," said Polk Township fire Chief Billy Tippett.
According to Tippett, it took 12 fire companies several hours to get the flames under control.
The restaurant is a total loss, he said.
As workers salvaged what little they could, many wondered what they'll do now.
"It's everything for me," said owner Silvio Vitiello. "We have over 24 employees here and those are the people I'm worried about right now."
One former employee got emotional watching investigators sift through the rubble.
"It touched you in a spot," Stephanie Angelica said. "It's, like, depressing. It's like, I have a lot of memories and -- a lot of things happened here, good and bad -- but it's just a place you won't forget."
The owner confirmed the restaurant was actually for sale. In spite of that, Vitiello insisted he will rebuild right away.
"It's still a business," he said. "It's still a life for me."
"It's an emotional attachment," said former employee Melissa Denault. "It's sad to see it go, but I'm sure it'll be back."
A state fire marshal was on scene, but as of Sunday afternoon, Tippett said a cause was still undetermined. Luna Rossa's owner said the building was fully insured.
Allentown, PA 18102
- Southeastern PA Jace Codi / 69 News