SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — Brian Bosco had painted the walls red and tan and stained the dining room tables. He designed a kitchen in the 1922 building so that everything had its mise en place, its place in the work flow, he said.
"I did everything by hand. A solid year of my life before it opened," said the co-owner of Domani Bistro Lounge.
Bosco was devastated by the early morning fire Tuesday that engulfed his restaurant and damaged a neighboring furniture consignment boutique, A Modern Line.
Yet in the aftermath, he was uplifted as scores of neighbors began rallying to help. Within hours, they planned fundraisers to cover bills for those who worked there and to help rebuild the restaurant and repair the boutique.
Offers came from far and wide. Bosco's friends from New York want to help with demolition. Neighbors brought boxes to salvage goods. One offered massages for the 15 employees. Another, help with structural engineering.
"It's actually been pretty cool," Bosco said. "Everybody wants to help out."
The 75-seat bistro, at 6421 N Florida Ave., was destroyed by the 2 a.m. fire, which Tampa fire investigators said started from an electrical or mechanical malfunction in the walk-in freezer system. The building, with an estimated worth of $500,000, and $300,000 worth of contents were declared a total loss.
Bosco arrived in time to see 50-foot flames shooting through the roof.
Neighbors awoke up to the news — some by predawn texts.
The reactions were swift.
T-shirts were designed, with preorders tallying more than $1,000 by Thursday afternoon.
The Heights Collective, a group of neighbors with a passion for the neighborhood, started planning events and dividing into committees.
Volunteers asked local businesses to give a portion of profits for a week and started planning a dinner made by local chefs with each making a different course. They planned a pub crawl. And then an outdoor community event, a food truck rally with music.
Jay York, 26, is a member of the group and adored the restaurant. He said it was one of the reasons he moved to South Seminole Heights.
"Our reputation as a great neighborhood has a lot to do with our restaurants," he said. "They bring people here and they see the area and fall in love with it."
York said the community has a unique outlook.
"We have an ecological perspective on the community and how each individual plays a role in the overall health of the place they call home," he said. "I think that's why Seminole Heights has such a big heart."
The volunteers want to show support for the businesses, he said.
"They're not just business owners," he said. "They're our neighbors."
About 150 people had signed up by Thursday afternoon to go to the Heights Unites: A Community Event to Benefit Domani Bistro & A Modern Line, set for March 22.
Bosco was overwhelmed.
"It's one of the reasons we picked the neighborhood," Bosco said. "These are good, down-to-earth people."
The restaurant was insured, and Bosco is committed to rebuilding.
"I hope we can bring it back even better," he said.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.