KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Before Julie Stanley could finish reading her speech she cried. She told the crowd at her restaurant Food Dance that she was going to try to hold it together but she couldn’t. Her voiced cracked when she thanked people for sticking by their side since the fire happened in late September. Thursday evening, they re-opened.
“It’s very exciting. It’s been nine weeks of hell,” laughed Stanley during an interview earlier that day. “We’re totally ecstatic about it. It’s really coming together.”
Food Dance has been around for 24 years, she said. However the fire on September 28 was something she never experienced before. It was her worst nightmare she said. She remembers crying and “flipping out” when it happened.
“We didn’t have a fire in the building, just smoke,” Stanley recalled. “Lots and lots and lots of smoke. Then standing outside watching it was just as horrifying.”
That day firefighters stormed their building, which sits on the corner of Edwards Street and Michigan Avenue. They were on the rooftop containing the fire that Stanley said stemmed from the duct not being cleaned properly by an outside company.
“Luckily our sprinkler hadn’t gone off in the dining room so we didn’t lose any of our dining room,” Stanley said. “But we lost a lot of equipment and other equipment that failed after that.”
She said they spent the next two months throwing away anything that had been touched by the smoke. All wood and plastic materials were tossed out. It was an exhausting process she said but what got her though it all was the outpouring of love from the community and restaurant industry.
“It definitely kept us alive,” Stanley said with tears in her eyes. “It kept us moving forward and it was just so heartfelt,”
Other restaurants reached out immediately and helped them with catering orders. They “jumped in” and took care of her staff.
“We were able to keep our staff on pay the whole time, which was part of our great insurance policy,” Stanley said. “We haven’t lost but a couple of people. They’re all happy to be back.”
Thursday morning, the kitchen was filled with cooks preparing foods for the grand re-opening party. Other staff members were setting up the dining room and the bakery, stocking it with freshly-baked bread. Around 4 o’clock, Food Dance was packed with 200 guests just as its always been.
“It’s great because everything is clean from top to bottom here,” Stanley said. “It’s like starting over, better.”