Owner Readies to Reopen

Waitress Melanie Stablein, who lives behind Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen, was awakened by firefighters at 4:20 a.m. last Friday, Feb. 17, sawing through the restaurant to gain access to a smoldering fire.

Eva Madray, owner of Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen, was awakened by a call from the police at about 4:30 a.m. last Friday, after an alarm went off at her restaurant. She arrived 10 minutes later to find a fire truck on the scene. Others soon followed.

An officer responding to the burglar alarm spotted smoke and radioed for help from the fire department, said Laguna Beach police Lt. Jason Kravetz

Because of the early morning hour and the potential danger of a restaurant fire, police initially closed all four lanes of Coast Highway, allowing fire trucks to maneuver more easily, he said. The road was reopened by 8 a.m.

The smoldering fire, believed to have started in a linen closet, was squelched in under an hour, said Madray, but “ambulance chasers” were already lining up to offer their services. Madray eschewed the services of opportunistic strangers in favor of local professionals and expects to reopen soon, hopefully before the next week is out.

“I don’t have time to waste,” said Madray, standing amid smoky debris at the rear of the restaurant she’s  owned for 11 years. Even so, she still greets visitors with the smile and hug she bestows on all patrons.

Madray focuses not on the losses, but the outpouring of support from friends, neighbors and employees and on the task of reopening the doors of her south Laguna restaurant.

On Sunday she called on loyal customer and designer Gregg Abel, who agreed to take on reconstruction of the restaurant’s burned out storage area. Abel assured her clean up and repairs could be made within two weeks, barring impediments. On the engineering side, Madray engaged local Bob Lawson.

Madray had yet to receive an estimate of damage losses from an adjustor. “We’re doing our darnedest” to get everything done quickly, said Abel. But as of midweek, repair work was stalled, waiting for the green light from the insurance company.

Fortunately, the rest of the restaurant suffered only smoke damage. Security cameras showed evidence of smoke from smoldering linens as early as 11 p.m. Thursday. The liquor closet and a storage room were destroyed along with the linen closet.

While flames consumed some pantry items in the storage room, the remaining provisions spoiled due to lack of refrigeration when the power went out. And though the fire spared most of the liquor inventory (Eva’s boasts over 100 different kinds of rum), a health inspector declared them no longer fit for consumption due to smoke damage.

After a content storage service offered to clean and store moveable items such as tables and chairs, pots and dishes for $25,000, Madray opted to hire her own staff instead. It keeps them employed and they are faster and more efficient, she said. On Sunday, she and a bevy of helpers had carted away the bulk of the debris, including 60 pounds of her signature Cajun spice blend. By Wednesday they had cleaned most of the furniture, dishes and pots and removed them to rented storage units, clearing the way for walls, floors and fixtures to get a scrubbing.

Madray already placed an order for replacement ingredients for her spice mix. Since it requires aging, she plans to start mixing this Saturday so that it’s ready when the restaurant reopens. She’ll also need to replace pantry items, linens, alcohol and storage containers.

“In the end, I’ll have to get a U-Haul truck, take all my workers and go shopping,” she said. Restocking with produce, meat and fish at the early morning markets in Los Angeles will wait.

Madray urges customers to keep checking the restaurant’s Facebook page for a re-opening notice.


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