Downtown artisanal pizza restaurant to re-open in July

Jun. 25, 2014 @ 09:51 AM

Pizzeria Toro, the downtown restaurant that was closed by a fire in November, is re-opening in late July.

Gray Brooks, one of the three co-owners of the restaurant, said the renovations on the restaurant’s interior started about a month ago after city building officials issued a building permit for the job.
The work includes fixing water and other damage caused by the fire, he said, as well as the redesign of the exhaust chimney from the restaurant’s pizza oven.
There were back-and-forth deliberations with the city over the renovations, Brooks said, and the restaurant’s owners also brought in a new engineer for the redesign of the chimney.
“It was just basically the city was being very, very cautious … (there was) a lot of back and forth,” Brooks said of the delay in the restaurant’s re-opening. “We wanted to go very slowly and deliberately -- we didn’t want to rush this.”
Brooks said the restaurant got a lot of support from the community during its closure. They’re going to be able to re-open with all of their original staff intact. He said they had insurance that covered employee wages.
“We’re just amazingly humbled and grateful for the support that we’ve gotten from Durham,” Brooks said. “If we’re going to have a restaurant catch on fire anywhere in the world, we would want it to be in this town.”
Durham Fire Department officials determined the November fire started accidentally around the exhaust duct from the oven. There was also a previous fire at the restaurant in April of last year that occurred in a kitchen ventilation duct.
While the April fire caused little damage, the fire in November forced the closure of Pizzeria Toro and two other nearby businesses, and also damaged upstairs apartments.
A lawsuit filed by the owner of one of the apartments above the restaurant related to the fire still continues.
In January, resident Jason Couch filed suit against Pizzeria Toro and against ExhaustClean, a business that was contracted to clean the exhaust system of the restaurant’s oven.
According to Durham County Superior Court filings, the lawsuit by the resident alleged negligence by the restaurant and by ExhaustClean. It claimed that the resident was entitled to punitive damages from the incident.
Pizzeria Toro filed a response to the suit, claiming that there’s no factual or legal basis for the punitive damage claim, and also alleging that the claim was frivolous. The restaurant also filed a cross-claim against ExhaustClean and against construction, engineering, architectural, and other companies involved in the design, construction or repair of the duct work.
ExhaustClean filed a response to the restaurant’s claim and to the plaintiff’s suit claiming that its conduct was not the cause of the alleged damages, and also filed a cross-claim against the third-party contractors as well.
At least two of the contractors have filed responses to the third-party complaint asking for the motion to be dismissed.
N.C. Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, is representing Couch in the suit. He is in the discovery phase. Brooks said the lawsuit should not affect the restaurant’s re-opening.
“That’s an entirely separate issue,” he said. “That’s on its own track, and as far as I know, could be delayed for awhile.”