Popular eatery Uncle John’s lost to fire

Popular eatery Uncle John’s lost to fire

Wheeless: ‘ A sad day for Crawfordsville and Critten-den County’

ralphhardin@gmail.com “A landmark lost.”

That was how County Judge Woody Wheeless noted the loss of a popular local restaurant destroyed by fire.

Uncle John’s Italian Restaurant, located on Main Street in Crawfordsville, caught fire and erupted into flames around 5 p.m. Saturday evening.

While no injuries were reported, the fire is believed to have resulted in a total loss.

Wheeless, who also serves as chief of the Marion Fire Department, was one of dozens of emergency responders at the scene. In addition to the Marion Fire Department and Crawfordsville Fire Department, the West Memphis Fire Department and Parkin Fire Department responded to the fire. State and local police and ambulance service also answered the call.

Wheeless reported firefighters were “dealing with a lot of fire and heat” as crews worked the fire from several angles, including from on high by way of the WMFD’s ladder truck.

The restaurant, popular regionally and around the state, sat in the last remnants of Crawfordsville’s downtown area, popular for its unique offerings of Italian and barbecue dishes, as well as its bread pudding.

Uncle John’s was originally opened in 1984 by John and Lucille Marconi, who bought the restaurant from Lucille’s sister.

The Marconis had seven children. The youngest, Michael, stayed, and when John passed away in 1994, Michael took over the running of the restaurant.

As word of the fire spread, members of the community were quick to offer prayers and condolences.

“Oh, how so terrible,” said Cathy Lattus. “Father John was with us for a lot of years and we loved him so much. I remember lots of Christmas cheer that we shared together. Loved his mother and enjoyed our trips to his mother’s restaurant. May God bless all of you. Breaks my heart.”

“Loved this place,” said Glenda Barnes. “The food, friends and all the great times here. It will surely be missed.”

“We were there watching it burn,” said Sherran Hale.

“Wasn’t a lot they could do, but they tried. Marion Fire Department, I commend you on your fast response to this. Crawfordsville did a fine job, too.”

Carissa Griffin said, “Thinking of all the times our family ate there. Birthdays, anniversaries and just because it was Friday or Saturday night. Such good memories.”

The Marconi family’s history with Crittenden County goes back even longer than Uncle John’s.

Candace Marconi shared some of her memories about Uncle John’s from her younger days.

“If there’s one story I’ll never forget,” she recalled, “my Grandma told me that I was five or six years old, in town staying with her and my Grandpa because my mom and dad hadn’t moved completely from Texas to Arkansas yet and were in the process. And I still remember so clearly running around with him it’s crazy. And one day, when I was being a typical five- or six-year-old, my grandpa needed to run up to the restaurant and was taking me with him. He said to me, ‘We’re going up to the restaurant come on.!’ I responded, ‘I don’t wanna go to no restaurrrrrrrannt.’” “My grandpa said, ‘Well girl, you ‘bout to go to this restaurrrrrrrant,’ and I tell you what — I’d give anything to be at that restaurrrrrrrant right now — just one more lasagna, just one more hot fudge pie, and then come home and just have that smell on your clothes. I really have no words that I can put together to describe the emptiness I feel right now.” Marconi said the memories will always be there with her and her family.

“Whenever I come into town, I stopped there first,” she said. Eat, see familiar faces, reminisce — but mainly go into the kitchen and eat the french fries and the garlic bread left under the heat light. But it is so bittersweet, you know. It

really is. I thank God for growing up in such a beautiful place and town. I thank God for these memories.

No, it will never be the same, but God is up to something. There’s more than just memories here — a lot deeper than anyone knows. And I am so blessed to have grown up in this restaurant.”

She expressed appreciation for the support the community has offered.

“Our family is overwhelmed with everyone who has reached out to us,” said Marconi. “You all are family as well. I have no doubt in my mind that Uncles John’s has a special place in a lot of peoples hearts. Though we are broken, our hearts are so full.”

The cause of the fire, which was believed to have started in the kitchen, is still under investigation.

By Ralph Hardin