ECU Restaurateur Hopes to Restart Eatery after Fire
By Doug Boyd
Phone calls before dawn rarely bring good news. This one awakened Lou and Monica Cavalieri around 5 a.m. on Jan. 17.
Their Scotland Neck restaurant, Luigi’s, was on fire.
Cavalieri recalled thinking the fire might not be that bad. “We had two birthday parties that night,” he said. “I thought we’d just clean up and get busy because we had a lot to do that day. When we got there, flames were shooting out of the front.”
Just like that, the eatery the pair had sweated over and entertained in since 2001 was gone. Apparently, faulty wiring on the second floor of the 1882 building caused the fire. It was old wiring but had passed all inspections. Another possible cause was Monica’s laptop computer, which might have had a battery that was under recall for getting too hot and possibly causing fires.
Cavalieri is a laboratory technician in the dermatology clinic at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. A 19-year medical school employee, he assists dermatologists with a type of microsurgery called Mohs surgery and prepares the tissue they remove to check for skin cancer.
A typical day for him was to get up around 6 a.m. or so, put in an eight-hour day at Brody, head home to Bethel where his wife would pick him up and drive the pair to Scotland Neck. Cavalieri would try to catch a short nap along the way to the restaurant. There, they would work until 9 p.m. or so, then head home and to bed around 11.
It made for long days, but the Cavalieris seem like the perfect pair to own a restaurant. Lou has recipes from his Sicilian mother. Monica has recipes from her St. Louis childhood along with experience from managing three pizza chain stores. After being held up at gunpoint three times, she was ready for quieter surroundings. A friend called them about his restaurant in Scotland Neck that he wanted to sell. It was just right. On Valentine’s Day, they bought it.
|A popular restaurant in the small town of Scotland Neck, Luigi’s went up in flames Jan. 17. (Contributed photo)
“People asked what I got my wife for Valentine’s Day, and I said I bought her a restaurant,” Cavalieri said. “She said it was the most expensive gift and gave a lot of headaches, but it was rewarding.”
They went to work on the building and the menu. “Everything Italian was my side of the menu,” Cavalieri said. “Everything else was hers. It was a good combo.”
The restaurant found a following in Scotland Neck, a no-stoplight town along U.S. 258 in Halifax County. Once a bustling center of commerce in the northeastern part of the state, most folks now know the town mainly for its parking in the center of Main Street. Hunters and anglers know the area well, though, and come from near and far to fish the Roanoke River and hunt whitetail deer, turkey, bear and other game.
“The hunters used to come in and eat because we had a good menu, good selection,” Cavalieri said. The fare ranged from cheesesteaks with old-fashioned crinkle-cut french fries to pizza, lasagna and Friday-night seafood specials.
But on a cold night, all that ended, along with records, furnishings and equipment – and an old American flag the couple found when they were fixing up the building. It was apparently hand-made and flew outside the building during its department store days. The couple framed it and hung it in the dining room.
“That was the first thing I went in to get, but it was destroyed,” Cavalieri said. In addition to their building being gone, smoke and water damage affected neighboring buildings. A total of four structures are now torn down, leaving a gaping hole along a Main Street the Cavalieris and others were working hard to renovate.
“We were pretty proud of the building,” Cavalieri said. “It was the only building downtown that had all the original second-floor windows.”
Scotland Neck resident Miriam James, her husband, family and friends ate at Luigi’s about twice a week for more than seven years.
“I think we’re starving now that it’s not there anymore,” said James, billing manager at the East Carolina Heart Institute.
“That was where we could go, relax and enjoy a good dinner. Everybody there knew everybody else.”
The Cavalieris are looking at a couple of locations in Scotland Neck to reopen in six months or so. They had insurance, but not enough, Cavalieri said. Friends and relatives are trying to help get the couple back in business. Monica Cavalieri’s sister came down from Massachusetts and hosted a spaghetti dinner Feb. 20 that raised nearly $4,000. Another friend had a fish fry that raised $3,000. Those who’ve helped out include a number of ECU employees.
“Everybody just came together. They want us back so bad,” Cavalieri said. “We get calls about daily from customers wanting to know when we’re coming back.”