Damage from a fire at Veneto Wood Fired Pizza & Pasta at 318 East Ave. in Rochester’s East End isn’t visible from the street, but it has caused immense disruption and uncertainty for the popular restaurant and several other businesses.
“I’m still in shock,” Veneto owner Don Swartz said last week.
The blaze began just before dawn on Jan. 4, sparked by an electrical problem in a clothes dryer at the back of the dining destination, Rochester Fire Department Capt. David Abdoch confirmed.
When firefighters arrived, they encountered flames in multiple rooms at Veneto, which they were able to contain and extinguish.
But where there’s fire, there’s smoke, which spread not only through the restaurant but immediately neighboring establishments and two apartments.
No one was hurt. One of the apartments was unoccupied, the second apartment’s tenant was able to get out safely on her own, and firefighters rescued her cat, Abdoch said.
However, for the time being, all the businesses are closed while their owners try to navigate paths forward.
Veneto, in existence since 2001, sustained fire, smoke and water damage.
“My understanding is the back half of the building may have to come down, it’s so bad,” said Swartz, who bought the restaurant five years ago.
He doesn’t know how long the repairs will take to complete. “We’ll do what we can to speed it up,” he said of the process, but it could involve months.
In the meantime, he has expanded hours at Veneto’s 1308 Buffalo Road, Gates, location to keep 20 or so full- and part-time workers from the East End restaurant employed. As of Jan. 6, Veneto Westside Wood Fired Pizza & Pasta is open seven days a week, from 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and Saturday and Sunday and from noon to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday.
Akimbo Bookshop, located in rented space directly above the East End Veneto, may never reopen as a brick-and-mortar store, said Rachel Crawford, who launched the business in May 2022.
Everything inside the shop, her only source of income, is “unsalvageable” — from books to furniture to equipment — and her business insurance won’t even cover “a small percentage of the damages,” she wrote on Facebook, adding, “What may not look as bad from the outside is tremendously ruinous on the inside.”
Later, in an interview, she said, “People don’t understand how devastating smoke is. Black ooze is coming out of the wall.”
Initially, Crawford was able to retrieve a small cash box. “I cleaned the hell out of it, but the smell is still there,” she said.
Customers can continue ordering books on Akimbo’s website, bookshop.org/shop/AkimboBooks.
Crawford also has launched a GoFundMe campaign to try to recoup her losses. “I’m doing this all alone,” she said.
Down the road, if she is able to relaunch Akimbo with a physical location, it will be in a different spot, she said.
Chris Fantauzzo, whose Studio Lounge opened just two months ago at 7 Lawrence St. behind Veneto, also is dealing with smoke damage.
“I have security camera footage from that morning, and you can see thick black smoke from floor to ceiling,” he said.
A professional crew did a full clean-out of the upscale cocktail bar Jan. 7 and 8. But when Fantauzzo arrived the morning of Jan. 9, “It was like the cleaning did nothing,” he said. “To the eye, it’s completely clean, but the smell is still there.”
He now expects he’ll have to replace the engineered-wood floors, one wall, and all the upholstered furniture, as well as paint every surface before he’ll be able to reopen the establishment, which has around 30 people on its payroll.
“We’re still getting quotes, but to do everything, top to bottom, we’re probably looking at six to eight weeks,” he said.
Wall Street, a bar and grill at two doors down from Veneto at 330 East Ave., is closed temporarily, too. In between Veneto and Wall Street is a vacant space that formerly was home to Morgan’s Cereal Bar.
“No one was hurt. To me, that’s the most important thing,” Swartz said, reflecting on the incident. “It is a big deal, but I’d feel so much worse if someone got injured. That’s the way I look at it.”