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updated: 2/11/2014 4:57 AM

Long haul ahead for Mt. Prospect businesses after fire

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  • Video: Downtown Mt. Prospect fire

  • Sakura Japanese Restaurant in Mount Prospect was deemed by authorities to be a total loss after a fire there early Sunday morning.

      Sakura Japanese Restaurant in Mount Prospect was deemed by authorities to be a total loss after a fire there early Sunday morning.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Central Continental Bakery is among the businesses closed as a result of an early Sunday morning fire in an attached restaurant.

       Central Continental Bakery is among the businesses closed as a result of an early Sunday morning fire in an attached restaurant.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Massive icicles have formed on a 90-year-old building in Mount Prospect where a fire gutted a restaurant, closed other businesses, and left residents homeless.

       Massive icicles have formed on a 90-year-old building in Mount Prospect where a fire gutted a restaurant, closed other businesses, and left residents homeless.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 

Sakura Japanese Restaurant reopened not more than two months ago, following a renovation project that updated the decor of the 36-year-old downtown Mount Prospect eatery.

And just last week, owner and head chef Greg Kim was working on updating the menu, as part of his overall plan to make Sakura a "modern Japanese restaurant."

Now, he says, those plans are "ruined" after fire tore through the restaurant early Sunday and left it a total loss.

Other businesses and apartments in the building at Main Street and Northwest Highway were also damaged. Their future is uncertain while officials determine how much of the 15,000-square-foot building can be salvaged.

"We just remodeled, and then this happened," Kim said Monday. "(The restaurant) is not damaged. It's gone."

Other affected business owners on Monday tried to find ways to keep their operations going in temporary locations, since the 90-year-old building is deemed not suitable for occupancy. Fencing and yellow police tape remain around the structure, and a portion of northbound Main Street was closed in case pieces of the building fall.

The building also houses the Mount Prospect Chamber of Commerce, which shares a wall with Sakura and where the ceiling fell into at least half the office. Other businesses, including Central Continental Bakery and Picket Fence Realty, appeared to escape severe damages.

Of the six second-floor apartments, those above the restaurant sustained the most damage. Some residents were able to find temporary housing with family and friends; others are staying at area hotels.

No injuries were reported.

Fire department investigators, meanwhile, are still working to determine the cause of the blaze, which broke out at 4 a.m. Sunday and took four hours to extinguish.

The key to discovering how the fire was triggered may lie in the basement of the restaurant, where firefighters reported seeing heavy fire when they arrived to the scene -- so much so that they backed out of the basement, and began defensive operations to try to contain the blaze to the restaurant portion of the building.

The first- and second-floor ceilings of the restaurant caved in, and a pile of debris has accumulated on top of the basement, according to Fire Chief John Malcolm.

"Right now, that's pancaked," Malcolm said.

He added that the basement is likely filled with 10 feet of water, and investigators won't be able to access it until crews pump the water out.

Kim said just last week, the building owner called a maintenance technician to work on a boiler in the basement of the restaurant. The building owner, who was the original owner of the Japanese restaurant, couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

Village Manager Mike Janonis said village officials have been in contact with the owner, and affected businesses and residents. Insurance companies are now evaluating the building and working with the building owner and tenants.

"We're impressing on everybody that we need to move sooner rather than later on securing that building, and whether it gets torn down fully or partially, it has to be happen sooner rather than later," Janonis said.

Until the building can be deemed structurally sound, barricades will remain in place as a safety precaution -- likely for the rest of the week, Janonis said. Detour signs are in place redirecting northbound Main Street traffic, while southbound lanes remain open.

Residents and business owners were able to grab some of their belongings after the fire was extinguished Sunday; now village officials are trying to arrange for them to return to pick up other items.

Central Continental Bakery, which sustained mostly water damage, is still making baked goods from its wholesale plant in Elk Grove Village, and on Tuesday morning is expected to open a temporary retail location at Village Hall, directly across Busse Avenue.

Owner Robert Czerniak said he will be selling bakery goods from a room in the community center, where patrons can also pick up preordered cakes.

Tom Zander of Picket Fence Realty said agents are working out of a sister office in Arlington Heights, but he also hopes to open a temporary location in the next few days in Mount Prospect.

"We are fully functional right now, and we don't anticipate missing a beat," Zander said.

Dawn Fletcher Collins, executive director of the Mount Prospect Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber will not be returning to its office because of the extensive damage caused by the ceiling collapse, as well as smoke and water damage.

For now, Collins is using Le Peep Cafe as her "satellite office," though she says she may work from different remote locations this week and next. Phone calls to the chamber office are forwarded to her cellphone, and she is picking up the chamber's mail at the post office.

The long-term future of the chamber will have to be decided by the board of directors and executive director at a future meeting, said Michael Davey, immediate past president of the chamber.

"The chamber is uniquely positioned in that they can use the library as a temporary abode. With the internet now and all the social media, it's much easier to communicate," Davey said.

Kim said he is unsure about whether Sakura would reopen in a new location.

"It just happened (Sunday)," Kim said. "We just want to know what's going on first, and then go on from there."

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