The owners of the former Pizza Pete's, the Soldotna restaurant destroyed by fire a year ago, have begun construction on a new restaurant at the same site on the Kenai Spur Highway.
Froso and Mike Charalambous (pronounced har-ih-LAM-bos) said the new restaurant will be nearly twice the size of Pizza Pete's, but the menu and price structure will remain about the same.
If construction moves along as planned, the couple expects to open the new restaurant early next year. A new name has not been decided upon, but family members and friends are leaning toward "Froso's," according to the owners.
The new, 6,000-square-foot restaurant will seat 130 people in the main dining room and include a banquet room large enough for groups of 50.
The menu will include Mexican, Italian and Greek cuisine, plus steaks, seafood and pizza. Beer and wine also will be available.
According to Froso Charalambous, she plans to have the new restaurant designed in a Grecian motif with decorative columns similar to those in Pizza Pete's.
Two early morning fires destroyed the restaurant Oct. 10, 2001, and the cause of the fires was never determined.
The family said insurance investigators questioned them extensively and determined they were not at fault for the fires.
Early reports indicated the first fire, in the building's basement, was accidental, but circumstances surrounding a second fire that started about five hours later were highly unusual, according to Gary Hale, Central Emergency Services fire marshal.
Damage from the first fire was estimated at $5,000, but damage from the second fire was far more extensive, destroying the building and its contents and closing down the business.
Three months earlier, the couple had spent $100,000 remodeling the entrance and front area of Pizza Pete's, and at the recommendation of their insurance agent, they raised their coverage by $200,000 to $800,000.
She raised the coverage on the building, but not the contents coverage and the loss-of-income coverage, which were still at the same levels as when the couple bought the struggling business 12 years earlier.
"I did not realize the insurance was three separate policies," Charalambous said Wednesday.
She said the insurance company settled their claim for $800,000, which they have added to a loan of more than that amount to rebuild their business.
"It's all we have ... our business," she said. "Since the fire, I have not had a job."
She and her husband are working as general contractors for the new building, though.
"I worked double shifts at Pizza Pete's, and Mike worked there from 10 in the morning when we opened until closing," she said. "We loved the business and serving the people who came to eat there.
"When I read the reports that they thought we set the fire, I was angry. I was ashamed to go out," she said. "Why would we set the fire? We built the business into a very good business and we had just spent all that money remodeling."
Charalambous acknowledged she never responded to reporters' calls about the fire because she was angered by what she already had read in the newspaper and by what she felt was being implied.
In earlier news accounts, the CES fire marshal was quoted regarding the unusual circumstances surrounding the second fire and said it was not the result of a rekindle.
Hale said Friday that several factors ruled out a rekindle, including a "huge time frame" from the first fire to the second fire, the fact that no smoke or flames were visible after the first fire was extinguished and the fact that three individual firefighters inspected the building thoroughly using a thermal imaging camera and never located one hot spot.
"We have never indicated that the family was at fault. It's unfortunate that some finger pointing did come about. I'm not sure where it originated. But we have never, never implicated the family," Hale said.
"What's important now is that I want to say thank you to all the people who have supported us," Charalambous said.
"We really appreciate their business, and we welcome the people to come back when we open. We like to serve them," she said.
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