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$2,500 Reward for Information Leading to Capture of Arsonist(s)

Investigators are looking into the fire at Rustic Grille and attempted fires set at Frank's Barber Stylists and Matt & Louie's Barber Shop

A plastic chair and a large bin up against the prep area behind the Rustic Grille burst into flames when a fire was lit inside the trash can in the wee hours of Monday morning and the fire burned right up to the eaves.

In front of the shopping center at 494 Main Street, Fire Marshal Bill Davin said the window for Frank's Barber Stylists, which is in the same building as Rustic Grille, was broken, though evidence leading investigators to believe there was attempted arson there too was not made public.

Heading south on Main Street, Matt & Louie's Barber Shop, run by Matt Ramadani and Louie Roci, both of whom used to work at Franks', was also hit. The window of the front door was broken and someone tried to light up the metal blinds.

A metal bin toward the roof behind the building had fire damage, as well as the back door, where Ramadani and Roci said someone piled cardboard and set it on fire. Luckily for the barber shop, the door was fire resistant and the business was open on Tuesday morning.

But the Rustic Grille could take months to open again and Anna Rexhepi, a hairdresser at Frank's, believes the shop she works at will be closed for another two weeks.

"It certainly looks like it was done by the same party," Davin said of the similar modus operandi at both locations.

The fire marshal said a $2,500 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist(s). Those with information should call the Connecticut Arson Hotline at 1-800-84ARSON.

Davin's office and the Monroe Police Department are investigating the fire with assistance from the Connecticut State Fire Marshal's Office. Davin said he called in the state agency after determining it was a suspicious fire, while at the scene on Monday morning.

"They just have more equipment and resources," Davin said.

At 3:33 a.m. Monday, Police Sgt. Jay Torreso a police officer noticed smoke behind the shopping center at 494 Main Street while on patrol. If not for Torreso, Davin said it would have only taken 20 more minutes before the Rustic Grille suffered a total loss.

Lasting Friendships

The shopping center at 494 Main Street was still cordoned off with yellow tape on Tuesday morning.

John Kantzas, who owns Rustic Grille with his wife Sandy, was talking with patrons and friends inside the restaurant.

"This is my lifehood," Kantzas said. "This is my employees' lifehood."

Kantzas said he first got into the restaurant business after his family moved to America from Europe — working at diners when he was 11-and-a-half years-old.

"I've been working so many years, I don't know what to do with myself," Kantzas said. "My hobby is working for my customers."

Kantzas and his wife, Sandy, both said they have become close with patrons at their restaurant since it first opened five years ago. Kantzas recalled a man who comes up from Norwalk for Rustic Grille's eggs benedict, a Norwalk woman who loves the roast beef sandwich, as well as customers who make trips from North Haven and the Bronx.

The couple has been married for 32 years and lives in town. They have four grown children, including daughter, Marie, who works at Rustic Grille.

"I'm very tight with these people," Bob Cain a customer from Newtown said of the Kantzas family. "They're nicest people in the world. Their daughter was crying."

Cain had come to Rustic Grille to see if there was anything he could do to help John Kantzas to reopen.

"I can't believe anybody would do that to him," Cain said. "I want the ball rolling. I want this place up and running."

Cain said he and a group of friends meet there for breakfast and talk about everything from sports and local news to politics. But he comes for the food just as much as the conversation.

"The eggs are fresh and everything is homemade," Cain said. "The hollandaise sauce is homemade here."

Cain was not the only regular customer to walk up to John Kantzas and offer help Tuesday morning.

Tom Benedetto of Monroe befriended Kantzas a few years ago. Kantzas fondly recalled a story of when his staff was backed up one night and Benedetto walked into the kitchen and helped with the dishes.

"We got him an apron," Kantzas said with a laugh.

Another time, when Kantzas and his wife went away for a weekend to visit one of their daughters at college, Benedetto, who used to be in the restaurant business himself, oversaw the restaurant.

Mike Chervansky and Derek Currier of Creative Music, 701 Main Street, approached Kantzas.

"Hey John," Chervansky greeted him. "We're here to offer you any help we can. I need my steak and eggs."

Kantzas turned to Currier and said, "He comes in and gets the Big Daddy Roast Beef."

Currier said employees of Creative Music always go to Rustic Grille as a group at lunchtime.

Anna Rexhepi of Frank's also stopped to speak with John and Sandy Kantzas.

"I love him like a father," she said of John Kantzas. "He's a very nice guy. I love the entire family. I'm just devastated by what happened. I still can't believe it. I'm shocked."

Rexhepi worked at Frank's for 11 years and has known the Kantzas family for almost six. She said she has cut their two sons' hair.

John Kantzas said Rustic Grille has sponsored Little League and softball teams and been active in charities such as Swim Across the Sound, Relay for Life and Sprint for Monroe.

A sign inside the restaurant says: "You enter as strangers. You leave as friends." And Kantzas said they have made a lot of friends.

The couple said the support of customers expressed in e-mails, on Monroe Patch and on Facebook is keeping them going. Sandy showed children's drawings on the dining room wall and a scarf from the Women's World Cup that a customer gave them.

"It's not just that we serve eggs and hamburgers," John said, before Sandy added, "We build relationships."

Matt & Louie's

Matt & Louie's Barber Shop is set far back from the road at 258 Main Street in Stepney Plaza. On Tuesday morning, Louie Roci cut a man's hair in front of one mirror, while Matt Ramadani talked to someone on the phone about the arson attempt on their business.

"This was really surprising for us," Ramadani said of the early morning call they received from police on Monday, which is their day off.

Ramadani showed the burn marks on the metal blinds on the front entrance and the charred back door, which is fire-proof. He also showed the metal bin just below the roof line in back of the building, which had burn marks on it.

When asked what he thought of the arson at the other shopping center, Ramadani said, "That is horrible too. We thought there was a fire at the restaurant because of the cooking. It's hard to figure," he added over why someone would do such a thing.

jim laguardia August 09, 2011 at 07:13 PM
This is disturbing news, I hope they catch whoever is responsible and prosecute them to the fullest extent. Good luck to all of the owners and employees, we especially look forward to the return of the Rustic Grille
Len Roberto August 09, 2011 at 08:53 PM
Yes, this is disturbing news. Let's not foget there were two fires not long ago in Frances bake shop, right in that area. They were labeled not suspicious, but I hope they take another look at those fires. I wish the best to all the businesses affected.
ed clark August 09, 2011 at 09:20 PM
John and Sandy - We hope you get a chance to re-open as quickly as possible. Cathy needs her well-done hash and eggs with melted Swiss on top and I need my tomato omelet. Keep Monroe Patch notified as to when you will re-open. We miss you already. Ed and Cathy Clark
David Bailey August 09, 2011 at 11:39 PM
Very sorry to hear this awful news. Thank God the patrolman caught the blaze when he did, so it was not a total loss - and thank God no-one was hurt. Looking forward to your swift return, and will be happy to help in any way I can to speed up that process.
Donna August 10, 2011 at 12:45 AM
This town is really getting ridiculus with these fires. I meet a few friends there for breakfast and te food is always good. My prayers are with John, Sandy & Marie. They are great people and make you feel at home there. I hope you can get the business up & running again soon. Also I hope someone will come forward with finding whoever did this horrible crime!!! They certainly do not have any respect for other peoples property or business. The people responsible deserve jail time!!!
Sue_W August 10, 2011 at 01:03 AM
Where are we mothers going to celebrate the return of our kids to school?! Hang in there John and Sandy ... we loyal customers will be back!
John and Sandy August 10, 2011 at 01:29 AM
Thank you everyone for your support and well wishes. Your thoughts and efforts are truly appreciated. Fondly, John, Sandy and Marie.
jim laguardia August 10, 2011 at 02:54 PM
not cool "Walt" not cool
Life By The Green August 10, 2011 at 09:16 PM
The only reason my kids are even remotely happy about coming back to Monroe after a summer on Cape Cod is to have their weekly dinner (or two) at John's. We haven't broken the news yet. You're going to have some sad boys coming over to your house for dinner if you don't get to work soon!
Christine E. August 10, 2011 at 10:32 PM
Life By the Green, I agree! My Grandparents are in town from FL, and I always rave to them about the Rustic Grille. They're so bummed! You never crave something so much until you can't have it!
TBL of CT August 11, 2011 at 12:00 AM
I am very saddened to read about damage done to our local businesses. The fact that this continues to occur in town is concerning. It appears as if the owners of the Grille are wonderful people; so are Matt and Louie, and so were the owners of Franciscos! Let us not forget M&L too being located in a different plaza! Certainly a wonderful job conducted by the patrol officer! I do hope the criminals are caught and held to the fullest extent of the law! Additionally, to have the loss of revenue to the business owners and town these days is terrible!
Marlene Vitale August 11, 2011 at 03:44 PM
John and Sandy, We are so sorry for your loss. You are in our thoughts and prayer's. Hopefully they will figure out what this is all about soon and you can re-open. We miss you already. You are two of the nicest and hardest working people we have ever had the pleasure of meeting. We pray for a speedy re-opening and you can bet we will be waiting on your door step !!!!! Sincerely, The Vitale Family and THE SELLOUTS
Brian Quinn August 11, 2011 at 03:53 PM
John & Sandy, Stop by or give me a call if there is anything we can do to help. Brian, Suzi, Buddy, Jimmy and Maggie Quinn.
Brian Quinn August 11, 2011 at 04:02 PM
PS. John, I was able to get back ALL the data from Brian Griffith's computer at the Gun Range next to Skate Time. It made a HUGE difference to his insurance claim. My number at Wholesale Computer Exchange is 203-459-8222. Any labor for you is free of charge. I just want to help get you back on top.
John and Sandy August 11, 2011 at 07:30 PM
Thank you Brian
Wolfe August 14, 2011 at 11:54 PM
John and Sandy Kantzas are wonderful people and I am sorry for their loss. I just hope that they had the proper insurance so that they will be able to re-open their restaurant. When they do, folks, let's ALL stop in and order something, at least once a month. I have never been a customer of the two barber shops and do not know the people who work at those businesses. But I wish the owners of those businesses well, also. There are too many sick people in the world today.
Shannon Reilly Monaco August 15, 2011 at 01:36 PM
Very sad news. My thoughts are with John, Sandy and Marie. Hopefully their doors will open again soon and I'll be looking forward to a turkey club. I also hope whoever did this is caught ASAP.
blackie August 16, 2011 at 01:14 PM
I also hope that the Rustic Grille is back up and running really soon, I miss my sausage and roasted red pepper omelette with french fries!
Rt25 August 25, 2011 at 06:25 PM
John and Sandy, How are the repairs going? Any anticipated re-opening date? We miss you.
John F. August 25, 2011 at 06:40 PM
The Roman Omlette? That is a pretty killer dish.
blackie August 26, 2011 at 12:00 PM
Yes! The Roman Omlette...delish! Recently had one at King's that sounded the same, but disappointing. Salute to the Rustic Roman!

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