A fire tore through a Palms strip mall. Some restaurant owners are still reeling from the devastation

Jay Betts planned to spend his day preparing food for a wedding with 200 guests. Instead, he wakes up to a 6 a.m. phone call bearing some of the worst news a business owner can ever hear: There’s been a fire, still raging, and no one knows about. extent of damage.

Betting and some other restaurateurs are still feeling the effects of a deadly fire devastated a strip mall in the Palms last month, closing many businesses – one restaurant could be permanent – and forcing relocation, headquarters, building-wide declines and lost what is estimated to be thousands of dollars a day post-operation.

“I was making almost $3,000 a day,” said Betts, owner of Bernie’s Soul Kitchen. “Now I only make $600.”

A man stands in front of a restaurant blocked by a fence.

Chef and restaurateur Jay Betts stands in front of his restaurant, which was damaged in a fire in September.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

A call to 911 at 5:44 a.m. drew more than 120 firefighters to the Palms strip mall, where Bernie’s sits on the western edge, adjacent to a witnessing cat boarding facility. ​17 cats died in the fire (two of the 19 retrieved from the building were revived). Nail salons, dojos, smoke parlors and employee offices also suffered direct fire damage.

Today, much of the center of the building is still burned down. Select businesses, such as Bernie’s, now have heavy chains on their doorknobs. A long fence has been erected along half of the building’s facade forming a barrier between the parking lot and the entrance to select the storefront – and for a time, a temporary memorial to the 17 children. cats, photographs and roses left in ruins by their owners.

A representative for the Los Angeles County Fire Department said that information about 9000 W. Venice Blvd. the start of the fire cannot be shared as it is still under investigation; however, an employee of the hospital admissions department during the firefighting process has recovered and has returned to the army.

Since opening in May, Betts has filled its Jamaican restaurant and casual dishes with oxtails, creamy mac and cheese, ice cream cakes, fried wings, shrimp combo plates, stewed greens and even Unique Jamaican-inspired classic Italian beef patty. Due to relocation from the September 17 fire, he is operating out of a ghost kitchen in Hawthorne, taking orders by phone and Instagram DMs, and delivering deliveries throughout LA County himself in an effort to stay afloat. its business. The chef, who previously ran Bernie’s Jerk Kitchen on Melrose Avenue, has also started showing up at Leimert Park on the occasional weekend and is trying to snag as many catering gigs as possible to make up for it. Make up for the loss of your restaurant.

On the day of the fire, he hired a moving crew and ran to Home Depot to buy a deep freezer for his house and garage because he couldn’t access his restaurant space. as well as its repository. The hired team also helps move the restaurant’s ordering tablets, all cash and other valuables, as well as TVs and picture frames from the walls. He’s glad they did: Within days of the fire, someone broke into Bernie’s house by cutting the wire on the back screen door.

“But all they found was an empty cash register,” he said.

Every day feels like a scramble now. He’s not sure when he’ll be able to reopen in space and estimates he’s losing up to $12,000 a week but says he’s one of the lucky ones. His restaurant suffered at least 15 years of business damage.

“It’s some nice people around,” Betts said. “There are people outside crying every day, putting roses on the fence.”

Bernie’s suffered both fire and water damage in the roofing and was forced to dispose of hundreds of Styrofoam boxes and other items that had been lying outdoors at the time of the fire, although the dining room was eventually usable and he She was able to salvage her fryers, grills and tables.

Down the square one floor, others were not so lucky. Chef-Founder Danny Cheng has been serving Mandarin, Szechuan and Hunan-style dishes from the kitchen of Golden China Restaurant since 1983. A fire closed his restaurant on May 17. 9 and the next day, a representative shared that it could be a year. for the restaurant to reopen. Various other business owners told The Times that they had been told the restaurant would not be reopening, although Golden China’s Yelp page said it expected to reopen on Nov. 30. Calls were disconnected and the restaurant did not respond to many requests for comment by other means.

View of a chain of businesses burned down.

Since the September 17 fire, a temporary fence has been placed around the outside of some businesses. Many people are still barricaded from the public, whether with a fence or a heavy chain locked across the front door.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Five hatches, the family that owns and operates Jamaican restaurant The Jerk Spot says it’s the second fire their restaurant has left in the strip mall in the past six years, has been a tenant for eight years.

“So getting the call this time set off the alarm,” said owner Courtney Williams. “Luckily for us again, we suffered no damage.”

However, starting the week after the fire, business slowed much, Williamses said; Their customer base who regularly stops by to buy curries, rolls, dried salmon, red beans and rice and other specialties after manicure appointments or massages or dry cleaning has had to stop. again. In the weeks since, calls from fans began to trickle in, asking if they were open for service; business activity picked up slightly, although they remained at a loss after the fire.

What is perhaps more painful, however, is watching some of their friends close their businesses – some as well.

“It was a relief to see we weren’t burned, but it was disappointing to see what was happening after that,” Williams said. “With some of the shop owners, we already have a good relationship, so of course they are affected in that way which hurts us.”

US Donuts and Tom’s #5 restaurants, both located at opposite ends of the strip mall from Bernie’s Soul Kitchen, remain open for business and with little or no damage; Weeks later, customers still coming to both say they’re relieved the restaurants survived the event.

Two weeks after the fire, Betts, meeting for food at a parking lot in Westchester, said he hopes to remain a tenant of the Palms building. Currently, he’s cooking in Hawthorne and is on a waiting list for a ghost kitchen in Hollywood, which would give him a more central facility for pickup and delivery. The fire hit him financially, but his business and clients kept him going.

“It’s not just money – money is the least,” he said. “Food is the most important thing to me.”

https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2022-10-09/fire-strip-mall-palms-bernies-restaurant-aftermath A fire tore through a Palms strip mall. Some restaurant owners are still reeling from the devastation

Russell Falcon

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