Community rallies around Leonardo’s staff after fire

Community rallies around Leonardo’s staff after fire

Words by Sophie Raynor

Staff at the Carlton pizzeria closed indefinitely due to fire will receive wage support during their time off thanks to a campaign that raised $15,000 in just 10 days.

Leonardo’s Pizza Palace had been trading for just three days after lockdown before the fire started just before 8pm on Sunday, June 13 — igniting in the kitchen’s electrical wiring and cutting power to the building.

Venue manager Laura Street told Inner City News waitstaff placed candles on tables in the fully booked dining room, initially surprised by the blackout because the restaurant’s music was still playing.

“Twenty minutes later smoke started coming from the pizza kitchen,” she said. “That’s when our head chef said to start evacuating the building.”

Fire Rescue Victoria said the fire was declared under control at 8.12pm — just 20 minutes after the triple zero call that reported the incident.

Evacuated patrons waited outside the restaurant as staff went around with phone torches to finalise payments.

No injuries were recorded, but Ms Street said the fire had caused significant damage before it was noticed, and until tied-up insurance assessors can appraise the damage the pizzeria’s owners don’t know when they’ll be able to reopen.

“It feels a bit rough,” she said. “We had a taste of normality again, a really nice feeling when everyone came out of lockdown and that first night back and familiar faces, and now there’s uncertainty about how long it’s going to be. It’s quite sad.”

But the sting of shutting down was soothed with the launch of a GoFundMe campaign to cover wages for the team’s lost shifts.

It has raised $15,000 of its $20,000 goal — all of which will go directly to Leonardo’s 21 staff, who are mostly casual workers.

Beaconsfield’s O.MY Restaurant, which also fundraised after suffering fire damage just one day after exiting lockdown in November 2020, donated $1081 to the Leonardo’s campaign.

Ms Street said her team wasn’t eligible for emergency cash payments from the federal government during Melbourne’s most recent lockdown — some due to student payments and others due to working occasional shifts at the restaurant on a reduced staff.

Leonardo’s owners Guy Bentley and Jon Harper worked quickly after the fire to assign staff shifts at their other restaurants, including Stan’s Deli in Malvern and Leonards House of Love in South Yarra.

“Our owners have always put our staff first,” Ms Street said. “It’s a relatively small team, and we want to keep the people we have. They’re kind of like a family.”

Local businesses have also pitched in — offering shifts to staff, sharing the GoFundMe campaign, donating money, and pre-ordering the custom-designed fundraiser merchandise produced by Weekdays, the design studio housed in the Leonardo’s building (their tongue-in-cheek shirts and totes read, “Hottest Pies in Town”).

Ms Street said the reception was a welcome surprise. 

“It’s just really nice feeling there’s this hospo community.

They’ve all been through a tough time themselves and they’re willing to help out.”

Until the damage can be assessed and repaired Leonardo’s will remain closed indefinitely and its staff out of consistent work. But Ms Street is determined to see her team through the temporary closure and resume normal service as soon as it’s safe to do so.

“The GoFundMe and the merch are a big part of it, but it’s more when we do re-open, getting those reservations in,” she said. “The longer we do this, the more creative we’ll have to get.”

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