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Bello Cucina and its manager recover together

The view of the patio from inside the restaurant. The patio was not completed yet when the photos was taken. Rae Yost/Morris Sun Tribune1 / 2
The interior of the restaurant after the fire. Dave Dybdal photo2 / 2

As if recovering from a business fire weren't enough, Marc Wolff, the executive chef and manager of Bello Cucina in Morris, has also been recovering from cancer during the past several months.

A Sept. 3 fire that started in the back of the restaurant caused extensive damage. Wolff was diagnosed with cancer the same month.

"September was real rough. It's been a journey," Wolff said.

A journey that revealed community support for him and the restaurant, Wolff said.

"It's been cool to see the community come together as they have," Wolff said of the local offers for help from individuals and businesses.

Bello Cucina should re-open next week. "Watch and see," said Wolff.

Wolff's journey to recovery continues but there is progress.

"I'm getting there," Wolff said. "I'm feeling a lot better."

"The community has been great. It's just been awesome," Wolff said. "There just been such genuine concern from people. I've had a lot of cool people helping me out."

The days after the fire were tough as Wolff and Bello Cucina owner Jason Mueller discussed whether to rebuild or relocate in Morris and determined the extent of the fire damage.

Two weeks after the fire, Mueller decided to rebuild the restaurant in its existing location.

"We've done a ground up restoration from the basement floor all the way to the bathrooms," Wolff said.

"There are going to be some changes, (for diners)," Wolff said. "It's gonna be neat."

One big change is a patio on Atlantic Avenue. Wolff said patios have been a popular feature of other Bello Cucina locations.

"It's a neat spot on main street to have a place eat and sit," said Richard Buro of REB Construction, one of the project contractors.

"All the doors push open to the outdoors to let the breeze blow in," Clint Warzecha of REB said as he opened the patio doors. The patio construction also includes screen doors to allow fresh air into the restaurant.

"We lost some seating with the patio (addition) and gained it with the conference room," Wolff said. A conference room had been planned before the fire. The area can still be used for a conference room but now, it also has additional seating for the restaurant, Wolff said.

"We used to have high top tables," Wolff said. The tables have been converted to low top tables which will be easier access for older customers, Wolff said.

A few more booths have also been added and there are new floors throughout the restaurant.

Buro said the main restroom was also revamped. "It was ugly before," Buro said.

"Everything has a new layer of lacquer and fresh coat of paint...," Warzecha said.

Wolff said the contractors went "above and beyond" in their work.

Wolff is also excited about a new supplier in Food Service of America. The Morris location is the only Bello Cucina location to use FSA, Wolff said.

While most of the menu is homemade, Bello uses a supplier for various ingredients, Wolff said. FSA is an attentive company with fresh product, he said. A company supervisor was in Morris the past week working with staff, Wolff said.

While Bello Cucina was being restored Wolff was in the midst of his chemotherapy and overseeing restaurants in Alexandria and Spicer.

"Jason had my back. I had the opportunity to go to other stores," Wolff said of staying at work and keeping busy.

Area residents have watched the work at Bello Cucina and waited it for it to re-open.

Wolff said the weekly chef's specials and special desserts as well as the Bello Cucina menu will return this week.

"Bello Cucina has always had great support from Morris," Wolff said. "I've had so many phone calls from people wanting to get in there. It's like six straight hours of phone calls. I've never seen nothing like it."