Food News

Tropical Acres Fire Ruled Accidental; Owner Readies for Rebuild

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

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."

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Food Critic
Contact: Melissa McCart