Warwick businessman Tom Buontempo will never forget his 62nd birthday.
Buontempo, who has owned and operated the Bagel Factory at 32 Toll Gate Road for the past 17 years, was attending a wedding reception for his best friend’s son at Alpine Country Club Saturday night. At approximately 9:30 he received a call from the alarm company saying there was a problem at the popular Apponaug restaurant.
“I’m thinking that there was a break-in,” Buontempo said yesterday. “Then I got a call from the Warwick Police saying the building was on fire.”
Buontempo immediately left the Cranston-based party and drove to the Bagel Factory, where he saw five fire trucks and clouds of smoke pouring out of his restaurant.
“I was so emotional,” Buontempo said. “A policeman asked me for my license and as soon as he looked at it, he said, ‘Oh my God, it’s your birthday.”
Warwick Fire Marshal Peter J. Marietti III said, “The fire was accidental and believed to have started by an overloaded circuit behind the sandwich counter,” in the front area of the 1,600-square-foot eatery.
“One fireman told me he was sorry we had to break the windows,” Buontempo said yesterday. “But they had no choice. They couldn’t see inside because of the smoke and to keep the firefighters out of harm’s way, they had to break the windows. Because it was an electrical fire, there was more smoke than flames.”
Although Buontempo vowed to rebuild and re-open as soon as possible, he estimated that damage caused by the smoke and fire to be approximately $300,000.
“We are going to need massive renovations,” Buontempo said yesterday. “But I’m anxious to get going and re-open as soon as possible.”
When asked if that was an accurate figure, Bryan Taylor, general adjuster for property claims-large loss unit from Harleysville Insurance in Harleysville, Pa., who was on site yesterday morning, said, “It will probably be at least that much.”
Most of the damage is smoke-related and when that sort of fire occurs and smoke gets into the walls of a building, everything must be torn down to the studs. Buontempo said the renovation project would call for new insulation and new wiring.
“Right now we’re trying to see what we can save and what we can’t,” Buontempo said. “But thank God for a kid named Tim; if he didn’t make a call and summoned the fire department, who knows what would have happened and if there would be anything left.”
It was that teenager Tim, who Buontempo said is a friend of a Bagel Factory employee, that was driving past the building when he saw smoke. He immediately called 911. Almost at the same time, another Bagel Factory employee called her mother, who was with Buontempo at the wedding reception, and told her “that the Bagel Factory was on fire.”
“I’m trying to reach out to that youngster,” Buontempo said of Tim, who he noted is “apparently a friend of one of my employees. There’s no doubt he saved the future of the Bagel Factory.”
Buontempo, who opened the Bagel Factory in 1997, said, “We are obviously deeply saddened, but we’ll get through this. But we’ll be back ... I’m hoping to make it a better and beautiful facility. My heart breaks for our wonderful patrons. In essence, when you’re in the retail business, you feel like your customers are family. I love my customers; I’m saddened by the fact that their lives have been interrupted by the fire. But we’ll be back and hopefully as soon as possible.”
People from all walks of life have been Bagel Factory patrons since Buontempo, a one-time jewelry company owner, opened his doors.
“We’ve been blessed with great customers,” Buontempo said. “We’ve had people from all walks of life come here. [The late] Gov. [J. Joseph] Garrahy, dignitaries ... construction workers, medical people ... we’re going to rebuild and open as soon as possible, I’m committed to it!”
Buontempo has no timetable, or even an idea, when the extraordinary rebuilding process will begin.
“When we get close to the date,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion, “we’ll put up a big banner when we’re near re-opening.”
But at present, the only banners hanging from different parts of the Bagel Factory read: “Closed due to fire; we’ll re-open as soon as possible.”