Bella Italia to reopen in a few months

Monday, September 19, 2005

The restaurant will have a new patio and facade, but the menu will remain about the same.

When an early morning fire roared through Bella Italia restaurant March 19, owner Mark Dirnberger sat helplessly on the curb across the street watching firefighters douse the flames.

For the past three months, Dirnberger has been watching construction crews restore the interior of the building, which was left structurally sound. He said the restaurant should reopen in two or three months.

"It's going to be a little nicer, a bit more romantic, and it will still have a home-style feeling," said Dirnberger, standing near a wall that was splattered red when wine bottles blew their corks during the fire.

Dirnberger said restoration of the building at 20 N. Spanish St. began about seven weeks after the fire. Insurance claims had to be settled first, and he said it took nearly two weeks to remove the debris.

"We had to take it down to the floor. There wasn't anything left inside that was usable," he said, adding that all the liquor bottles had exploded. "I guess it was pretty exciting in here during the fire."

A battalion chief for the Cape Girardeau Fire Department had estimated at the time that the damage could exceed $100,000. Dirnberger said it cost almost that much "just to get the garbage out of here."

The cause of the fire was an improperly discarded cigarette. While smoking will still be allowed when the restaurant reopens, there will be a nonsmoking section.

"We'll have two sections divided. People won't have to walk through the smoking section to get to the nonsmoking section," he said.

Another addition to the restaurant will be an outdoor patio. The facade of the building will have a new look.

The menu will be about the same, and Dirnberger hopes most of the staff -- which numbered about 40 before the fire -- will return.

The worst that neighboring businesses suffered was light smoke damage. Dirnberger said the owners of those businesses have been supportive of his rebuilding effort.

"They've been terrific. We're a tight-knit group," he said.

Bella Italia opened in 2002. Dirnberger bought the business from John Wyman in October 2003.

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