Fire strikes landmark S.F. restaurant owned by Nevada City man |

Fire strikes landmark S.F. restaurant owned by Nevada City man

Bob Larive of Nevada City was remarkably upbeat Wednesday morning as he surveyed the fire damage to his San Francisco landmark, the Fior d’Italia restaurant.

The North Beach eatery, reputed to be the oldest Italian restaurant in the U.S., suffered an estimated $400,000 to $500,000 in damage when it caught fire early Tuesday morning. Repairs are expected to take about three months.

“I’m the eternal optimist,” said Larive, principal owner of the restaurant since 1990. “It gives you the opportunity to get things done. It’s like anything else in life: You deal with it.”

Larive said fire inspectors believe the 3:34 a.m. blaze was caused by a motor in the basement furnace that froze and started burning.

The two-alarm fire spread through the subfloor of the building, then the walls and four apartments above the restaurant. The kitchen and dining room sustained extensive damage.

“We’re going to do some remodeling now,” he said. “(The fire) gives us a chance to do some things we were already thinking about.”

Larive, who spends a couple of days a week in San Francisco, said he heard about the fire at 4 a.m.

“I was asleep in Nevada City,” he said from San Francisco Wednesday. “We got a call about 4 o’clock in the morning that we had a fire in the restaurant. I was out of bed and on the road.”

Fior d’Italia opened for business in 1886 and operated at several locations before settling at 601 Union St. on Washington Square in 1953. The restaurant is popular with Bay Area residents and tourists, and the fire has attracted national attention.

“God, we got great press,” Larive said. “We got national coverage out of this thing.”

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