After Montebello Ristorante in Raymond suffered extensive interior damage last week, owner Enzo Raggiani is trying to get over the shock of seeing his business suffer such a blow.

With many questions still unanswered, Raggiani is focusing on positive feelings, like the gratitude he feels toward customers and friends he has met in Raymond.

“I’m so glad I’m in Raymond because I met the best people in the world. I found out who my friends are, and I have the support of great customers and great friends I never had anywhere else,” said Raggiani.

Raggiani attended culinary school in Italy at the age of 17, and came to the United States in 1985. He lived and worked in the Boston area until he and his family moved to New Hampshire in 2000. There, he opened Montebello Ristorante within a hotel. And in 2003, he and his wife, their four kids, and the restaurant, came to Maine.

After four years of doing business on Route 302 in Raymond, Raggiani was making some changes and improvements to the restaurant’s interior. Booths were installed in the bar area, and the open floor plan was changed by walling off the dining room. These recent changes, and Raggiani’s plans to introduce a new menu on Dec. 1, made the fire all the more devastating.

“I got so depressed (when I saw the damage), you wouldn’t believe it,” said Raggiani.

The state fire marshal office has yet to release a report on the cause, but Raymond Fire Chief Denis Morse said that it was an electrical fire that started in a back room where a freezer was plugged in. The worst of the damage is in the back part of the buildings, as well as the trusses in the roof. However, ashes are strewn throughout the entirety of the restaurant, and there is smoke damage throughout.

As bad as it looks, Morse said that it could be much worse. Raymond adopted a federal program called Life Safety 101. The program implements safety measures like automatic aid from neighboring towns, and an early alert alarm system. Also, Southern Maine Community College students-in-training were sleeping at the station, and were ready to go as soon as the alarm sounded.

The state of Maine adopted the program as well, but it is not compulsory, and Morse said it is rare for rural towns like Raymond to use it. It served firefighters well the night of the Montebello fire.

“Without things happening the way they happened, this building would be in ashes and it would a long time before they could figure out what happened,” said Morse. “Enzo put faith in the Lakes Region area when he had options (to move his restaurant to) Falmouth and Portland. And he’s cooperated with us since day one.”

The small town factor also helped. Morse is a friend of Raggiani, and he said that knowing the layout of the building helped firefighters subdue the fire quickly.

“We’re familiar with this building from both inspecting and eating there,” said Morse.

Raggiani said safety is his number-one concern, as a business owner, and he is grateful that no one was in the building when the fire started.

“To me, it’s so important to be safe, for me, my customers, and my staff…everything (the fire department) told me to do, I’ve done it,” said Raggiani.

Customers have come from Raymond and beyond to Montebello Ristorante since it opened. Not only is it a popular place for locals to have a drink and play games at night, but people from Gray, Falmouth, Portland and former customers from North Conway use the restaurant for holiday and business functions. Raggiani said there are 18 holiday parties booked this year, and he has looked at a few area function halls to host those parties, though he has not decided on a location yet.

A fund-raiser and a dinner seminar booked for November have been postponed until the restaurant reopens. Raggiani said that as soon as the insurance process is worked out, he will begin rebuilding. He estimates the job will take three to four months, and is looking ahead to brighter times.

“This is my passion. It’s what I have done for business all my life,” said Raggiani.

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