HYDE PARK — The owner of Wingers is promising to rebuild after a fire gutted the new restaurant the same day its business license was approved — and two days before he planned to open.
Mike Al-Matarneh got his business license the afternoon of Feb. 5. He was driving home when he got a call at 9:15 p.m. from a neighbor that his restaurant at 1368 E. 53rd St. was on fire.
“I was freaking out, I was crazy,” Al-Matarneh said. “When I got back to the place, there was a lot of smoke and the Fire Department was still trying to open the door.”
Firefighters were able to break down the door and when they did black smoke billowed from the restaurant and flames shot out. He said the fire was out within 20 minutes.
“I just felt really bad, I’d been working so hard for five months,” said Al-Matarneh, who also owns the Oasis Cafe downtown. He said he lost nearly everything in the fire, which gutted the interior of the restaurant but nevertheless caused no major exterior damage to the building.
Al-Matarneh said when he walked through the damage with firefighters, it looked like the fire started in the back of the restaurant. He said firefighters later came back to douse smoking embers in the ceiling in the back.
The Chicago Fire Department wasn't immediately able to identify the cause of the fire, but Al-Matarneh said he was told by investigators it appeared consistent with a fire caused by an electrical or furnace problem.
No one was at the restaurant at the time of the fire.
Smoke from the fire forced three families from their apartments above the restaurant that night, but no one was injured.
“We provided emergency housing, hotel rooms at the Hyatt Place and Regents Park, to three households the night of the fire,” said Peter Cassel, spokesman for the building owner, MAC Property Management. “Fortunately, the damage on the upper floors was generally limited to smoke damage, stairwell walls and carpets, and a broken skylight.”
The neighboring Zberry Frozen Yogurt shop closed for a week to repair smoke damage.
He said the damage was covered by his insurance and he planned to rebuild and hoped to open in two months.
“We’re going to come back exactly the same,” Al-Matarneh said. “Now I know where everything goes.”
Al-Matarneh said he still planned to offer a menu of burgers and chicken wings in five homemade sauces, including a special sweet chili sauce.
“When you taste it it’s sweet, but once it’s in your throat it’s really hot — and it’s really good,” Al-Matarneh said.