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Owner: "Manny's Cheesecake will not die" after fire

By WKTV News

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - It was just before dawn that fire tore through Manny's Cheesecake Bakery on Thursday, destroying the nationally-known bakery that had been a Utica food landmark for the past 42 years.

Owner Richard Alpert worked in the family business since age 11. Alpert said a baker, who was in the building at the time, alerted him to the fire, but Alpert had no idea what would be facing him when he arrived on the scene.

"I'm thinking maybe a light fixture caught on fire," Alpert said. "You know, you're thinking minor, nothing major you know? I mean, he just got here and there was nothing on fire at 4:30, you know, and then all of a sudden, ten minutes to five, there's a fire."

The magnitude of the loss is just starting to sink in for Alpert, who was more concerned about his children, who were born into the business.

"They were so shaken up this morning that my main concern was just them," he said. "This was secondary, didn't mean nothing at the time."

It took an entire shift - 26 Utica firefighters - to put out the fire. Fire investigators now believe the fire started on the first floor of the bakery, in the dining area. What they don't know, is how.

"At this point, we haven't ruled out any potential causes. There have been reports of lightning during the night. Again, we can get a report on that as to the weather...if there was something in this area, but as far as specific causes, we haven't determined any of that yet," says Chief Fire Marshall Ray Beck.

An arson dog trained in detecting accelerants assisted firefighters at the scene. The dog came from Albany. Fire officials say an engineer says the building is unsafe, and must be torn down.

The City Department of Public works is tearing down two walls Thursday night in order to make the building safe enough to stand overnight; and then they are tearing it down Friday morning.

Stunned onlookers spent much of the day staring at the fire-gutted building in disbelief.

"Whether it has been their hallmark chocolate chip cookie or their world famous cheesecake, Manny's has been a signature brand for desserts and cakes across the Mohawk Valley for decades," Utica Mayor David Roefaro said in a statement. "I am committed to investigating this fire and working personally with the Manny's cheesecake family to either rebuild their current facility or move to another within the City of Utica. I would also like to commend our fire department for its quick action in controlling this blaze."

Owner Richard Alpert had put the building on the market earlier this year, saying a tough economy made it more difficult than ever to sell a luxury item like cheesecake. Alpert says the business itself will rise from the ashes of the devastating fire.

"I can guarantee one thing; if it's not me, it'll be somebody," he said. "If it's not my daughter, it'll be somebody...but I guarantee, Manny's cheesecake will not die."

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