Friends of Umami,
A lot of folks have been asking us about last week's kitchen fire so we each wrote a blog post about the experience. Figured it was easier to put it in one place than to tell the story a million times! Hope to see you soon.
- Randy and Mike
It was about 8:30 during our dinner service on Wednesday July 6th when our chef came out of the kitchen into the dining room to alert me that there was smoke coming from outside the restaurant. We went to check it out and indeed I saw smoke oozing out of the wall. We didn't see flames but there was a ton of smoke. I was immediately on the phone to 911 to get the fire dept to come and instructed our staff to evacuate everyone from the restaurant. In my mind I thought OMG Umami is going up in flames! All our hard work was about to lost. I then called my partner Randy and told him we had a huge problem and that the restaurant was on fire.
Meanwhile our chef rushed inside to get a fire extinguisher and sprayed the exterior wall. Smoke was still coming out so he got two more extinguishers and we went into the kitchen where he emptied them into the the same spot on the interior wall. Then the firemen arrived and we were told to leave the premises . As we stood there on the street while the fireman sprayed and axed open the wall, all I could think about was if we were going to lose the restaurant. When the firemen were finished I went with them to assess the damage. I was really worried when we were going inside to take a look. The damage was contained to that area of the wall but we still had a huge gaping hole. I felt fortunate that we didn't lose the entire restaurant and thankful since it could have been much worse.
We had no idea how long it would take to repair and how much it would cost. The process of rebuilding was daunting but we knew we had to put what happened behind us and quickly mobilize to get the repairs done to reopen. We were worried that a prolonged closure would really hurt us if customers came only to find us closed for business. Luckily with the help of many people who worked quickly and tirelessly to put our kitchen back together we were able to be back in operation in a weeks time. We put so much work in to opening Umami and coming so close to losing it all was a real emotional experience. In the end it just makes me appreciate the place so much more. This is going to motivate us to work even harder to improve our restaurant and make it an even better experience for our customers.
I never would have predicted that my first Umami blog post would be about a small kitchen fire that closed us down for 5 days.
I was at home making pizza with my kids when my business partner, Mike, called and said "We a problem, a big problem...the kitchen is on fire!" I said "Mike, are we going to lose the...". And before I could finish the sentence, he rushed off to speak with a fire fighter. Not without irony, the fire alarm in MY house went off, shaking me from the sense of dread that was starting to settle in my body. Turns out that turning on the exhaust fan is a good idea when making pizza in an oven set at 550 degrees. I called Mike a few minutes later and he said, "Randy, I don't know if you have time to come here..." And before he could finish his sentence, the wheels were in motion for me to go to Umami. As I drove over to the restaurant, I conjured up images of our beautiful restaurant burning to the ground. I fully expected to see and smell smoke as I raced down East Johnson toward Patterson, where I would make that right turn to head towards Willy Street, where I would find Umami...in flames.
Luckily, my catastrophic thinking was just an exaggerated version of reality. I parked my car on Patterson and walked over. There was some smoke, not much but some, a few fire trucks and my staff sitting calmly adjacent to the restaurant. I quickly said hello to my staff and even managed a restrained smile as one of my servers pointed her chin at the firefighter who was stationed in front of Umami. I tried to walk past him but he said I couldn't go in the restaurant. I stood there wondering what the extent of damage would be, how long it would take to reopen and how much it would cost. Finally, I was allowed to go in. I spoke with Mike and the lead firefighter. I was relieved when the lead firefighter said "the goal is to get you to open by tomorrow.", suggesting the damage was relatively minimal. I went to the kitchen to see for myself. I saw a big hole where there was a wall, there was some water on the kitchen floor and the restaurant smelled like someone built a robust campfire on our porch. All in all, not too bad considering how bad it could have been if our chef, Rodey, hadn't been outside when he noticed smoke coming from the exterior wall. Rodey immediately rushed inside and emptied two fire extinguishers into the burning wall as Mike called the fire department.
The next 5-7 hours flew by as we ticked off our list of must do’s: Called a fire and water restoration specialist to evaluate the damage –check ; Spoke with the City’s health inspector-check; Spoke to our insurance provider-check; Left messages for our contractors, architect, and kitchen designer -check. All this while our amazing staff worked tirelessly to prep the restaurant so that the fire and water restoration specialists can do their thing. The day finally ended at 1am, over a well-deserved feasting of tacos, chicken wings, burritos and various desserts from Burrito Drive.
It turned out that opening the next evening was not an option. The architect had to design the reconstruction of the kitchen wall, contractors had to be lined up, the insurance provider had to chime in, the contractors had to do the actual work etc. And even if all this could be accomplished the next day, we still had to prep for the dinner shift. Over the next few days, we worked around the clock in an attempt to re-open as soon as possible. To the credit of all parties involved, the wall was designed and built, the restaurant was completely scoured until it was deemed soot-free , all City of Madison inspectors were satisfied so we were finally able to prep and re-open exactly 1 week later.
So here we are about to re-open Umami , desperate to re-establish a modicum of normalcy. As the old saying goes, “you never realize how much something means until you lose it”, or something along those lines. It’s a bit corny…. but so true. Luckily for us, we didn’t have to lose Umami to learn this lesson. We’re so happy to make ramen, dumplings, pork buns and other umami-rich nosh for our customers again! Oh, and the saketinis…