By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
FRONTENAC, Kan. —
An early morning fire in the heart of Frontenac’s two-block downtown business district has destroyed one of the town’s oldest and largest businesses, leaving 20 of its employees without work leading into the holidays and its owners in disbelief.
But its general manager, Wendy Ginavan, said there is no question Santino’s Sports Bar and Eatery will rebuild.
“It’ll come back. We’re very optimistic,” she said Friday morning outside the charred building, as an inspector with the Kansas Fire Marshal’s office completed his initial evaluation inside. “We’re just thankful no one was hurt. My biggest concern right now is my employees.”
Ginavan had not yet reached all of them by noon.
Frontenac Fire Chief John Zafuta said a police officer discovered smoke coming out of the building and placed a call to the fire department at 2 a.m. The business was closed at the time and there was no one in side. In addition to a crew from Frontenac, volunteer firefighters from Arma, Kan., and Baker Township also responded and were on scene until 4 a.m.
“It’s entirely gutted,” Zafuta said of the damage. “It’s still under investigation; we haven’t determined the cause, but it appears to be accidental.”
The popular nightspot was built by Kenny Falletti and his sister, Margaret Cukjati, in 1971, and called Kenny’s and Louie’s, according to City Clerk Doug Sellars, whose office is across the street.
“This has been a hub in our community for a long time,” Sellars said. “It’s a real loss.”
At first it operated as a recreation center and pool hall, then was purchased in 1991 by local residents Tom Moody and Jess Maceli and renamed Bootleggers.
On March 15 this year, Mike Bicknell took over operations and renamed it Santino’s as a nod to the town’s Italian heritage — the name comes from the Godfather books and films. In keeping with the gangster theme, Ginavan developed a menu of items with names like “Breaded Bullets,” (fried pickles and the “The Corleone,” (a burger topped with chili and covered with cheddar cheese).
Ginavan, who owned the Pittsburg landmark Bob’s Grill with husband Steve for many years and later worked at Fat Daddy’s, said she worked hard to transform Santino’s from the bar it used to be into a place where local high school students, families and business professionals felt welcome.
“It’s charred. It’s gone. Done,” she said through tears Friday. “But we have insurance. We’ll build a bigger kitchen. Our pulled pork nachos will be back better than ever. We’re trying to see the positive.”