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Socastee favorite reopens, thanks caller who helped save restaurant

Georgia Carandola (left) thanks Joyce Arland (right) Saturday at Athen's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeri. Arland reported a kitchen fire that could have been disastrous. (Taggart Houck/WPDE)

Georgia Carandola knows it's been a long road to get where she was Sunday.

Last month, the oven in her Athen's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria caught fire around 4 o'clock in the morning.

It did enough damage to force her to close up for the rest of December. She and her eight employees were without work during the holidays.

"It was hard. We learned a lot," she said. "My friend, Holly, started a GoFundMe (page) and that money went for the employees."

It helped bring in about $1,400, but their main focus was bringing back the family business of more than 30 years. Fast forward to this weekend, bold, flashing open signs greeted regulars, eager to come back inside.

"The sign on the door that said, "Open" was a very good sign for us," said Sandy Welch, with her husband. "We were happy for them."

But last month's fire could have been much worse. Carandola said firefighters told her that if they would have arrived on scene ten minutes later, the building may have been destroyed. Her life's work and dream would be gone. Ever since, she wanted to know who reported the early-morning fire. Sunday, the two met. Carandola gave Joyce Arland from Socastee a gift card. Arland said she reported the call while playing "Pokemon GO" with her niece in the parking lot.

"The parking lot here around Food Lion and everything is one of our spots that we come and creep around the parking lot and look for Pokemon," she said. "My niece saw huge flames, she's like, 'I don't think that's supposed to be like that, you guys.'"

A few minutes later, Horry County Fire Rescue arrived on scene.

"I'm glad I called," she said. "It's just what I was raised to do, you know? See something, say something."

Carandola said Saturday's grand opening was the second busiest she'd ever seen the restaurant.

"We almost had a line out the door, but it was good!"

She said the community has been very supportive. She said she owes them for the support.

"We made it with the support of friends, family, especially the Socastee people number one," she said, smiling.

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