On Tuesday around 6 in the morning, John Pappa was awakened by a pounding at his door. "I thought someone was trying to break it down," said executive chef of Tropical Acres Steakhouse, the Dania Beach restaurant that was stricken by a fire that erupted just before 4 a.m. on August 30th. Turns out it was one of his line cooks to tell him of the blaze in progress at the 62-year old restaurant.
Pappa, an employee since he was a fifteen year old busboy,
watched smoke billow from the roof as firefighters extinguished the blaze. "It was hard to believe
it was happening," he said. "I've been working here for forty years.
This is my home."
The fire destroyed the 7,000 square foot kitchen and caused extensive
damage to the remainder of the restaurant. Marshals have determined it
was accidental, caused by a machine used to iron tablecloths.
Owner Michael Greenlaw said he hopes to reopen within six to eight
weeks, though he realizes his projection may be a long shot. He'll have a better idea of what's feasible once
contractors do walk-throughs and give estimates over the next couple of days.
"The cords to every piece of equipment in the kitchen have melted. The
circuit boards are gone. Everything in the kitchen is a loss," said
Greenlaw. Though the most significant damage occurred within a 1000 s.f.
area, he says he will have to bulldoze the entire 7000 s.f. kitchen.
And that's the easy part. The fire also ravaged the roof. "We have no idea how badly it's damaged," said Greenlaw. And smoke is the
culprit of the most insidious damage: "All
those photographs that documents the history of the restaurant are
probably gone," he said.
Ten to fifteen employees have been working sunup to sundown- kitchen- turned construction- workers- with the rest of the staff trickling
in to help in spurts. Among them are Fitzroy Morton, a restaurant chef
for 25 years, and of course, John Pappa, who says he'll come to Tropical
Acres every day until it has been rebuilt. "It's really going to be a
lot of work," said Pappa, "but I'll do what I can."
Sixty five workers lost their jobs as a result of the fire. Coral Ridge
Yacht Club has helped out by absorbing staff as well as offering to take
over future reservations from Tropical Acres. Churches such as First
Presbyterian have offered donations and jobs for maintenance staff.
With holidays around the corner, Greenlaw says he will work
tirelessly-with the help of a disaster recovery team- until the
restaurant is up and running. Time, of course, is money: During peak
season, the restaurant churns out 1200 covers a night. It's no wonder
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Greenlaw affirms he'll open as soon as possible.
"This restaurant has been in my family for 62 years," said Greenlaw. "It is my past and it is my future."