CARNEGIE (KDKA) — Flowers sit by the entrance to the Sterling Building, and the main entrance to Papa J’s a few feet away, in tribute to 64-year-old Michael Wells.
“Mike Wells was an extraordinary man who was certainly part of the family,” says Michael Troiani, who owns both the restaurant and the apartments above.
The Troiani family has owned the building and restaurant for three decades. Even as he mourns the loss of Wells, Troiani is assessing the structural damage.
“It is destroyed. There is no roof; there is a partial third floor existing; the second floor is destroyed by fire, water, smoke; the first floor is destroyed by water and fire,” he says.
When first responders arrived at the building around 10:30 p.m. last Friday, there were already flames spraying from the windows of some of the upstairs apartments.
Chief Matt Brown, who heads up Allegheny County Emergency Management, including the fire marshal’s office, says the fire, “appears to be accidental in cause. It was an unattended cooking operation, and it originated in an apartment on the second floor of the structure.”
He says it was unattended because the occupant of the apartment had fallen asleep. Wells lived in a different area of the building.
Wells was a beloved fixture in the South Main section of Carnegie.
While the community mourns his loss, it also is mourning the loss of Papa J’s. The restaurant has been a critical part of the rebirth of Carnegie.
Borough Manager Steve Beuter says, “They’ve expanded the last couple years. So as far as the restaurant goes, to the business community, it’s pretty crucial.”
The living victims of the fire include 25 burned out residents and the 42 employees of Papa J’s who are now out of work.
Beuter says, “We’ve done everything we can both monetarily and supply wise. Day by day more people keep coming out to support the families, Papa J’s, and the owners of the building.”
As Troiani worries about his family of employees, he is also looking to the future.
“We will rebuild and it will be remarkable and better than anyone has ever dreamed of yet,” he says.
So, while he’s resolved to rebuild, probably on the same spot, Troiani says it is too soon to speculate on a timetable to get to the reopening.
If you would like to help the victims, a GoFundMe page has been set up to help them with their expenses. To donate, visit the page here.