After the fires, restaurants rebuild

After a wicked fire gutted Cafe Mexico in Market Square nearly two years ago, the popular restaurant is finally expected to re-open in September.

“ ‘The phoenix has risen from the ashes,’ we keep saying,” said Hilda Olberg, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Brad. He opened it 31 years ago.

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Cafe Mexico is one of several downtown restaurants to be damaged and closed by fire over the past few years. Some relocate, some reopen and others call

it quits.

On Jan. 20, 2015, a pot of oil on the stove caught fire at Cafe Mexico and spread throughout the restaurant and to neighbouring businesses. “We were completely devastated,” said Olberg, “Brad had nearly 30 years of things he’d collected.”

Olberg said the entire restaurant was damaged by fire, water and smoke. And when renovations began, other issues were discovered in the aging building that needed to be fixed.

“Everything had to be replaced. We had to redo all the electrical and pipes,” she said.

In the meantime, the couple opened Fuego — a breakfast and lunch spot — next door. Olberg said for months customers have come in and visited the Cafe Mexico Facebook page to ask when it will re-open. “It’s a generational thing. So many people have memories here,” she said.

The wait is almost over.

Olberg said they are shooting for the second week of September to re-open. She said the restaurant will put a call out for 40 staff positions mid-August. She did not want to divulge too much about the revamped Cafe Mexico as the menu and other details are still in the works, but said: “It will have one of the biggest Mezcal bars in B.C.”

Olberg said they are working with local bartending guru Shawn Soole and have hired a chef from Los Angeles. Some old favourites will be back, such as the chimichangas, rice and beans and classic salsa.

A few blocks away, Saaz Restaurant has re-opened after an electrical fire caused $150,000 in damage in early June. The restaurant had to shut down for about a month as the floor was replaced.

“It was mostly water damage,” said co-owner Raj Gupta, who opened the restaurant in 2013. “We’re glad to have our staff and patrons back.”

The Indian restaurant specializes in unique regional dishes such as dosa and uttapam from South India and Indo-Chinese such as Manchurian.

“We have a new chef and more extensive menu,” he said.

Other restaurants that recently bounced back after fire closures include Sen Zushi, which re-opened in March at its Fort Street location after a rice cooker caught fire and damaged the restaurant in April 2014.

Pho Vy Vietnamese restaurant on Fort Street was one of three businesses damaged in a November 2013 fire. It reopened about a year later but its neighbour Taste of India restaurant did not.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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