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Dormont fire destroys pizza shop, apartments

James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Fire crews work to extinguish a fire on Tuesday, March 26, 2013, at the family-operated Varrati Pizzeria in the 3200 block of West Liberty Avenue in Dormont.

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By Bobby Kerlik
Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 6:54 a.m.

The son of a former owner of a Dormont pizza shop woke up on Tuesday morning and saw a Facebook message from a former customer that his family's building on West Liberty Avenue was on fire.

“I was getting up for work when I saw it,” said Joe Varrati, 36, of Bloomfield, whose family operated Varrati Pizzeria out of their building for more than 20 years.

The five-alarm fire did significant damage, and the building likely is a total loss, Dormont fire Chief Jeff Arnold said. Varrati's family had sold the pizza shop, now called Angelina's Pizzeria, but kept the building. An owner of Angelina's declined to comment.

“It appears (the fire) started in the kitchen of the pizza shop,” Arnold said. The cause has not yet been determined, he said.

Firefighters closed West Liberty in both directions when the fire was reported at 5:15 a.m., Arnold said. The road remained closed more than four hours while firefighters battled the flames and smoke. No one was injured, Arnold said. Residents of the upstairs apartments escaped the building safely.

“It's crazy. I practically grew up in the building. It was our home away from home,” Joe Varrati said. “On Friday nights, it would be (his father), my mom, me and my sister (working in the pizza shop).”

His father, Francesco Varrati, 63, of Bloomfield, said he's owned the building since 1989.

“I don't have any words. I'm just hoping for the best. They told me it's a total loss,” Varrati said.

Residents said they lost almost all of their belongings.

“I woke up after 5 a.m. I thought I smelled smoke. I wasn't sure, but as I got up, the smoke alarm went off,” said Dave Held, 60, who lived above the pizza shop.

Held said he ran downstairs and went outside to look into the windows of the pizza shop. It was filled with smoke, he said.

“I'm a little bit in shock,” Held said. “I'm thankful, because I know the Lord woke me up.”

Allegheny County Chief Deputy Fire Marshal Donald Brucker said the building's roof collapsed into the second floor, then into the kitchen of the pizza shop.

Gary Muggli, 26, lives in an apartment next door to the pizzeria. Five other people live in the building.

“I woke up at 5:45 to what sounded like garbage pickup,” he said. “I looked outside and saw firetrucks. We all got out before they evacuated our building.”

The owner of that building, Anthony Marinelli, 41, of Mt. Lebanon said his four-unit building in the 3200 block of West Liberty — near the McFarland Road intersection — suffered smoke and water damage.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or

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