Curt Lavender was finalizing a charity motorcycle ride that was supposed to end at Village Pizza & Pub in Carpentersville, where riders could stop and have dinner.
Now the longtime customer finds himself reconsidering those plans, because the popular pizzeria caught fire Thursday afternoon and may be out of commission for a while.
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"They're great neighbors and great people, and we wanted to patronize them," Lavender said of owners Mike and Marcie Sarillo. "We'll figure something out."
Stunned restaurant employees, neighbors and other bystanders watched as firefighters climbed the roof and worked to put out the blaze at the 35-year-old Carpentersville eatery that some workers called their second home.
Nobody was injured in the attic fire, officials said.
The fire does not appear to be suspicious, and the cause is under investigation, according to Public Safety Director Al Popp. He could not confirm reports from workers that a bolt of lightning struck the eatery around 8 a.m., interrupting the phone and computer system and causing the fire.
The restaurant's main floor is still intact, Popp said, but it's too soon to say whether or not the building is inhabitable, Popp said.
Damage estimates were not immediately available Thursday.
Owner Mike Sarillo called the fire department around 1 p.m. after workers smelled smoke and saw it coming out of the restaurant's vents, said Marie Bertolami, the restaurant's longtime bartender.
Five staff members were inside the eatery at the time of the fire, she added.
Village Pizza, 145 N. Kennedy Drive, opened in 1978 as a carryout restaurant and expanded to include a pub in 1985. Its original location was at 117 N. Kennedy Drive, now home to Rosati's Pizza.
The Sarillos built the bigger eatery next door three years ago. They declined to comment Thursday.
The fire's reach extended beyond the restaurant.
Route 25 and other roads near the eatery were closed for several hours.
That meant students from Dundee-Crown High School, Algonquin Middle School and Algonquin Lakes Elementary School had to wait longer for bus service, according to a statement from Community Unit Community Unit District 300.
It also attracted news helicopters and large crowds of neighbors looking to see what was causing the commotion. Some neighbors snapped photographs of the activity.
Isabel Trueba just moved to the neighborhood about a month ago and got a closer look at the scene with her three daughters and sister.
"I saw the smoke coming out and then the firemen," she said.
Bertolami watched all of the activity from a lawn chair she happened to have in her car.
The Lake in the Hills resident has tended bar at the restaurant for 28 years, and she says her co-workers and bosses are like a second family.
When she had to have surgery on both of her knees, they kept her on the payroll the entire 14 weeks she was out, Bertolami said.
"I love this place," Bertolami said. "I'm very sad."
Lavender, who lives near the restaurant and says he's been eating there for 32 years, stayed around in case the Sarillos needed help moving their things to a Village Pizza & Pub they own on Randall Road.
"That's what neighbors are about," Lavender said.