Early Thursday morning fire damages family-owned Italian restaurant on Shattuck Avenue

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A fire broke out early morning Thursday at 2420 Shattuck Ave., damaging a family-owned Italian restaurant at the location.

The fire, which erupted at Giovanni Restaurant, was reported to the Berkeley Fire Department at 6:12 a.m. The owners were nearby when the fire occurred. By the time the owners arrived at the scene, someone had already called for BFD, and responders had arrived to fight the fire, according to Downtown Berkeley Association CEO John Caner.

The fire began on the first floor of the building and had made its way up to the second floor by the time BFD arrived and responded to the fire, BFD Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb said. The fire was reportedly controlled by 6:58 a.m, and no one was found to be injured or killed.

“What (the owner) told me was that the Berkeley Fire Department was incredibly fast in containing the fire for minimal damage,” Caner said. “It could’ve been a lot worse otherwise.”

After further investigation, the fire department ruled the incident to be accidental. The fire started on the first floor, just next to the fireplace, which was near an electrical light switch. Webb said he suspected the fire spread within the wall from behind the electrical light switch, up through the second floor wall and into the attic space.

The fire department had no difficulty getting into the restaurant to respond to the fire, but the commercial building was severely damaged, as firefighters had to open concealed spaces to ensure that the fire was accounted for.

Although the incident did not affect nearby buildings, as the fire only occurred in an enclosed space, the entire building was damaged, according to Webb. It is estimated that the damage of the restaurant will cost about $100,000, in large part because of damages from breaking down the roof and the several walls within the building.

Giovanni Restaurant was opened in 1961 by Giovanni Schipani as a sidewalk pizza cafe called Mr. Pizza. In an effort to expand his restaurant business, Schipani bought an abandoned muffler shop nearby, renovated it and reopened the space as Cafe Giovanni in 1963.

The family has struggled with keeping the restaurant open and running because of financial pressures, such as owing tax money to the Internal Revenue Services.

Despite the significant damages to the front of the building, the owners of Giovanni Restaurant are not planning on closing the restaurant down, Caner said.

He also expressed his interest in wanting to support the business during its recovery and said that Giovanni is a “long-term, wonderful family-owned business.”

Contact Jennifer Kang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @jennikang.