Brooksville icon Papa Joe's Italian Restaurant burns down overnight

BROOKSVILLE, Fla. - Papa Joe's Italian Restaurant, a well-known Brooksville eatery in business since 1981, burned down to the ground early Friday morning.

According to a statement from Virginia Singer from Hernando County Government, rescue workers responded to the fire around 3:00 a.m. at 6244 Spring Lake Hwy.

Owner Joe Giarratana, or known as "Papa Joe" to the community, says he's still trying to comprehend what happened, but he still can't think of only himself.

"We feel really bad for the employees, but I know that we'll regroup, and just move on," he said.

Fire marshals tell ABC Action News they believe the fire started in the center of the building, with electrical wiring in the roof, possibly from an air conditioning unit.

Giarratana and his wife Donna say they jumped in the car as soon as they got the early morning phone call.

"We got in the car and we could see an orange glow, and we said 'oh my Lord Jesus!'" she said.

By the time firefighters were battling the blaze, the flames reached as high as 20 feet the family said.

All morning long, regular customers of the restaurant that has been a local icon stopped by to wish the family well and talk about their memories of their favorite local eatery.

"They were such good people. You could always, even if you have a problem of any little thing, boy, they'd have it just that quick," said Tom Jones.

Community members who stopped by said over the years Papa Joe and his restaurant have given a lot of money to local charities and organizations, and to pay the favor, they want to help rebuild.

Papa Joe himself had the following message to the community.

"Thank you for supporting us for 33 years, and to be patient we will be reopening again," he said.

It is believed the building was unoccupied, and no injuries were reported.

No other buildings were affected.

The fire is still under investigation. 

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