Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”
When "Inside Dish" visited Santorini Greek Kitchen in May, co-owner and executive chef Taki Sawi had logged a sales increase through the dark days of the recession and was contemplating creating a $2 million banquet facility on property just east of the Fountain Square eatery. This week, Sawi was preparing for a grand opening—just not the one he had hoped.
An electrical fire ripped through Santorini's kitchen and part of its bar area late on Oct. 11, wreaking between $800,000 and $900,000 in damage. The pervasive smell of smoke and an extreme soaking delivered by fire department hoses necessitated a wall-to-wall gut rehab of the interior.
After a flurry of construction, the work appears to be on track for a mid-December reopening, Sawi said. That would be slightly more than two months after he first waded through the smoke-stained remains of his eatery.
"When all this is done, you're going to see a wonderful new restaurant," said Sawi, who received a crash course in surviving a potential catastrophe. "I learned to just be patient. Everything is going to be OK. The first couple days were kind of a disaster for me. It really broke my heart. And now I feel comfortable. I feel better."
Sawi had business insurance that will pay for reconstruction, as well as business-interuption coverage that will reimburse him for lost income for a period of 60 days. An adjustor for his insurance company set the renovation budget at about $800,000—$200,000 for inventory items such as new kitchen equipment and dining furniture, and $600,000 for nuts-and-bolts construction and interior systems, such as electrical and plumbing.
As of early November, Sawi estimated that he owed food-service suppliers about $40,000 in overdue invoices. They granted the eatery a grace period until Santorini's could get back on its feet, he said.
Meanwhile, Santorini's 18 or so servers and kitchen workers have been scraping by as they wait for the eatery to reopen. Southeast Community Services has provided 11 employees with emergency support totaling between $10,000 and $15,000 through funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and United Way of Central Indiana, according to Executive Director Terri Garcia.
"This is just like family," Garcia said of the restaurant, located a few blocks from the SCS headquarters. "I'd have meetings there. I can't tell you how much I miss the mushroom soup."
Will Herndon, who fills a number of roles for Santorini's front-of-the-house operations, received assistance through SCS for a mortgage payment and utility bill. "It's a great neighborhood service," said Herndon, who held his wedding rehearsal dinner at the restaurant on Oct. 9. His wife, Nancy, organized a benefit for the employees on Nov. 14 at Radio Radio that raised $1,200.
Herndon has bided his time in part by aiding with renovations at Santorini's and helping a friend operate the new Pure Eatery at 1043 Virginia Ave. in Fountain Square. Despite the layoff that likely will cost him at least $5,000, he didn't consider looking for a new job.
"It's the comfort zone," said Herndon, who lives nearby. "The people I work for are great. I enjoy going to work, and I enjoy the people I work with. Plus, I hate being the new guy."
In the video at top, Sawi details the moments and weeks after the fire as he got over the initial shock of the disaster and began rebuilding. Living next door to the eatery, his days and evenings are filled with construction duties as he supervises work and lends a hand.