Monday, July 2, 2018

Billie’s Fine Foods Gutted by Fire, Two Months After Change in Ownership

Posted By on Mon, Jul 2, 2018 at 11:59 AM

click to enlarge The fire-damaged kitchen inside Billie's Fine Foods. - COURTESY OF LAUREN ZYCH
  • Courtesy of Lauren Zych
  • The fire-damaged kitchen inside Billie's Fine Foods.

A fire that ripped through Billie's Fine Foods (1802 S. Broadway, 314-621-0848) Saturday has left the 1960s-era diner essentially obliterated.

The owners of the eatery say they're committed to reopening, but for now, the blaze has done so much damage that the beloved restaurant isn't just closed — its kitchen is a pile of ash and rubble.

It's a tragic turn for co-owners Lauren Zych and Kelly Kaighan, who took control of the business on April 1. Two months later, their venture is a blackened heap.

"Saturday was just my third day back to work," says Zych, who had been out of commission while undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer. "Thank God nobody was in the building. I ;was the last person there on Saturday."

The diner, which had various owners during its approximately sixty-year run, is located in the industrial Kosciusko neighborhood, tucked between the Soulard Farmers Market and the Mississippi River.

According to Zych, the diner closed at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, and it wasn't until 9 p.m. that she received word that the business had caught fire. She believes the fire started earlier, closer to 8 p.m., but by the time she got the news it was essentially over.

"The fire department called the old owners, and the old owners called the landlord, and then landlord called me," she says. "It was so bizarre. I got to Soulard, and there were no fire trucks, nobody. They put the fire out and were gone."

Since then, Zych says she got in touch with investigators with the St. Louis Fire Department. From a quick look inside the structure, she thinks the fire likely started in the kitchen. But other than an educated guess, Zych notes, the fire's cause is a mystery.

"I'm literally clueless," she says. "It looks like the kitchen was destroyed, and it looks like the fire didn't make it all the way to the front. There may be some salvageable stuff out front, but the damage looks really bad."

While investigators and insurance companies handle the the aftermath, Zych says she and her co-owner aren't simply going to walk away.

"This is not the end. Billie's is historic to Soulard," she says. "We were doing great, our business was going great, we were building up regular customers. Obviously, we want to rebuild, reopen and we want to get back in business as soon as possible."

A GoFundMe campaign, created by the son of Billie's co-owner Kelly Kaighan, is seeking to raise $10,000 to support the diner's repairs and eventual reopening.

click to enlarge Another photo of the ruined kitchen. - COURTESY OF LAUREN ZYCH
  • Courtesy of Lauren Zych
  • Another photo of the ruined kitchen.

click to enlarge Zych believes the fire may not have reached the diner's sitting area, but the front of the restaurant took heavy damage during firefighters' efforts to extinguish the blaze. - COURTESY OF LAUREN ZYCH
  • Courtesy of Lauren Zych
  • Zych believes the fire may not have reached the diner's sitting area, but the front of the restaurant took heavy damage during firefighters' efforts to extinguish the blaze.

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com


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