An extra-alarm fire damaged a popular restaurant in Oak Park Tuesday morning and forced the evacuation of surrounding buildings.
Oak Park Fire Chief Ron Kobyleski said the building where the fire started had four apartments and two storefront businesses – Delia’s Kitchen, 1034 Lake St., and Polished Nails and Tan, 1036 Lake St.
A statement issued by the village later Tuesday said the restaurant and nail salon were severely damaged, while tJerusalem Café and Lou Malnati’s, located in adjacent structures, sustained smoke damage.
Kobyleski, whose first day as fire chief was Tuesday, said the fire began in the rear area of the building.
“We evacuated all the buildings next door to the fire building, just for safety. There were some people working in the restaurant and they were also evacuated,” Kobyleski said. “It was a pretty stubborn fire.”
Kobyleski said the fire got in between the walls and in the ceiling which made it difficult to extinguish. The Oak Park Fire Department received the call about the fire around 9:30 a.m. According to the village, it was extinguished by 11:30 a.m.
The investigation into what started the fire remains open.
The roof of the building was burned off, Kobyleski said, with extensive fire damage to the third floor and “heavy water damage to the first floor.” Beyond that, however, he could not comment on the condition of the building.
Those living in the apartments won’t be allowed to return home for the immediate future, he added.
Lake Street was shut down for several blocks as about 75 firefighters from 12 different communities worked on the blaze. There were no immediate injuries reported, Kobyleski said.
Veronica Ciobotaru, owner of Delia’s Kitchen, had been taking her first day off in weeks on Tuesday when she got the phone call telling her the building was on fire.
A distraught Ciobotaru was on Lake Street Tuesday afternoon, watching firefighters from a nearby corner. She doesn’t know much about what could have started the fire; it was all still sinking in.
“I don’t know what else I can tell you,” Ciobotaru said before walking off.
Summer Piggee has lived in Oak Park for 20 years, and Delia’s Kitchen has become a part of her life.
“We are losing a big institution of not only a business but of really a family — an Oak Park family,” Piggee said. “I believe everybody who lives here comes to Delia’s at least once a month. They have the best pancakes in the country.”
Piggee said she hopes they can rebuild and come back better after surviving pandemic-related shutdowns.
“Veronica has done so much for this community and we need to support her during this time,” said Piggee, who has developed a friendship with the owner over the years. “Like the Chicago Fire, we can rebuild.”
The Lake Theatre, just down the street from the restaurant, was evacuated during the fire and sustained smoke and water damage, according to Chris Johnson, CEO of Classic Cinemas. The roof and heating and air-conditioning systems also were damaged, Johnson said, though “we hope to open tomorrow if possible.”