Tropical Acres Fire Ruled Accidental; Owner Readies for Rebuild
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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