Neighbors, chamber offer sympathy and support after restaurant fire

Ethan Fogg knew the news would be bad as he approached the lower end of Main Street Thursday morning on his way to work and saw smoke from what he soon learned was a fire at Nolan's on Canandaigua Lake. 

“It was one of those moments you just have a heaviness in your chest,” said the executive director of the Canandaigua Chamber of Commerce. “The amount of responders on the scene implied that it was something catastrophic.”

It was.

Nolan's, owned by Nick Violas and Kate Nolan, would be completely destroyed before the fire was extinguished by mid-morning.

“Nick is a fine man,” Fogg said. “He is a good friend to us at the chamber and a good friend to the community who is involved in a lot of things. Our hearts ache to see this happen to people who are contributors.”

He said the chamber has 500 member businesses standing by to help in whatever way they can.

The help came quickly from John Berndt, general manager of the neighboring New York Wine & Culinary Center, who invited Violas, Nolan and their employees to come in out of the smoke and rain. He provided coffee, water and pastries not only to them, but to first responders on the scene.

Berndt learned about the fire when he got a call from his alarm company shortly after 6:30 a.m. — about an hour after the fire was first reported to 911 by a passerby.

Alarms at the New York Wine & Culinary Center were ringing as the drifting smoke filled its air ducts. Berndt arrived around 7 a.m. and approached firefighters to see if he could help. He said they took a quick tour of his business, re-set the alarm and returned to the scene where Berndt found Violas, Nolan and employees.

“Everybody was in shock,” he said. “Everybody was across the street watching with tears in their eyes, watching their employment go up in smoke. We invited them into our building to get them out of the smoke, to get restrooms and coffee.”

Berndt said the scene was pretty intense from 7 to 9 a.m., but that the fire was pretty much out by 9:30 a.m.

He said he has known Violas and Nolan for about a year and a half, since he took over leadership of the New York Wine & Culinary Center.

“They're very passionate about what they do, and they're very concerned — first and foremost — about their employees,” he said. “I know it was a tragic time for his family and his employees. It's a very sad thing to see anything like this happen in the community. We want to be as supportive and helpful as we can.”

Violas and Nolan could not be reached for comment Thursday. An associate of the restaurant at the scene said they were not commenting at that time.

Violas and Nolan opened Nolan's at its current location in May 2014, moving from 130 Lakeshore Drive to make way for development of the now-stalled Canandaigua Finger Lakes Resort project.

The building and property of Nolan's at 726 S. Main St. is assessed at $ 1 million, according to Dawn Hughson, assistant to the city assessor, who said it was owned by Leo Genecco & Sons Inc., which also owned the building Nolan's had vacated before the move.

“We're reviewing our options,” David Genecco, CFL Resort managing member, said when asked about rebuilding. He said he talked to the owners of Nolan's, but declined to share any of that conversation. He also said it's possible he may have another site for Nolan's to operate, at least on a temporary basis.

“It's a tragic loss for the owners who've built such a wonderful restaurant here in the city, but also a tragic loss for the community itself,” said Mayor Ellen Polimeni. “When I got the news, my immediate thought was what an integral part of the community Nolan's is because they service several other restaurant operations within the city so, I know for the owners, it has to be tragic.”

Polimeni calls Violas and Nolan personal friends and said her heart goes out to them and their employees, many of whom are also friends.

“It's a tragic loss for the community,” echoed City Manager John Goodwin, who arrived on the scene about 6:30 a.m. and remained until sometime after 9 a.m. when crews begin dispersing.

“You approach, you see smoke billowing and you think 'Oh my goodness' and you get there and your heart just sinks,” he said. “That was one of the great places to go to have a nice meal and walk by the lake. There were a lot of dedicated individuals who put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make it work.”

He also extended kudos to the men and women firefighters, career and volunteer, whom he said worked very hard to put the fire out.

“They should be commended for their work,” Goodwin said.

“In a town like this, we're a large family,” Fogg said. “We know anything that affects any member of our family, affects the whole family. We'll do whatever we can to help them stabilize as they recover. I am confident, given the character of this community, we will certainly recover quickly from this and no one will have to recover alone.

“We are grateful that no one was injured in the blaze and will keep our members informed as we learn more about how we, as a community, can help our fellow businesses recover from this devastating, but temporary setback. Our hearts and helping hands go out to Nick Violas and the entire Nolan's team.”

Nolan's is also the prime caterer for Canandaigua County Club and Heron Hill Winery and preferred caterer for many area establishments. The status of that aspect of the business was not immediately known, but a spokesperson for the country club said that facility has a full kitchen where Violas operates a restaurant so there was no reason to think it would not continue operating.

“We don't know anything at this point,” said Chelsea Guererri, marketing manager at Heron Hill Winery. “It's still early. We haven't had a chance to talk to the owners, so we really can't say anything.”