A fire has ravaged a shopping center in Palms. Some restaurateurs are still reeling from the devastation

Jay Betts had planned to spend his day preparing a catering order for a wedding with 200 guests. Instead, he woke up to a 6 a.m. phone call bringing some of the worst news a business owner could hear: There had been a fire, which was still raging, and no one was was aware of the extent of the damage.

Betts and a handful of other restaurateurs are still feeling the effects of a deadly fire which ravaged a strip mall in Palms last month, closing several businesses – a restaurant possibly permanently – and forcing a relocation, pivots, a building-wide drop in activity and losing what l ‘is estimated to have thousands of dollars every day in its wake.

“I was making close to $3,000 a day,” said Betts, owner of Bernie’s Soul Kitchen. “Now I only make maybe $600.”

Chef-restaurateur Jay Betts stands outside his restaurant damaged by a fire in September.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

A 911 call at 5:44 a.m. drew more than 120 firefighters to the Palms Mall where Bernie’s sits on the west end, next to a cat boarding that saw 17 cats die in the blaze (two of 19 recovered from the building were revived). A nail salon, martial arts studio, smoking room and employment agency also suffered direct fire damage.

Today much of the center of the building remains burnt down. Some businesses, like Bernie’s, now have heavy chains on their doorknobs. A long fence was erected along half the front of the building forming a barricade between the parking lot and what was the entrance to some storefronts – and, for a time, a makeshift memorial to the 17 cats, photos and roses left in the rubble by their owners.

A Los Angeles County Fire Department representative said information about 9000 W. Venice Blvd. the start of the fire cannot be shared as it is still under investigation; however, one service member hospitalized in the firefighting process recovered and has since returned to active duty.

Since opening in May, Betts had filled its casual soul kitchen and Jamaican restaurant with jerk oxtails, creamy mac and cheese, frosting-covered cakes, fried wings, combo plates of shrimp, greens long simmered and even a unique Jamaican-inspired take on the classic Italian beef sandwich. Due to the displacement of the September 17 fire, he operates out of a ghost kitchen in Hawthorne, takes orders by phone and Instagram DM, and delivers himself in LA County in an attempt to keep his business afloat. The chef, who previously operated Bernie’s Jerk Kitchen on Melrose Avenue, has also started popping up with a stand in Leimert Park on occasional weekends and is trying to pick up as many catering gigs as possible to make up for the loss of his restaurant.

On the day of the fire, he hired a moving crew and ran to Home Depot to buy freezers for his house and garage because he could no longer access his dining space or storage. The hired team also helped move the restaurant’s order shelves, all other cash and valuables, and TVs and framed pictures from the walls. He’s glad they did: A few days after the fire, someone broke into Bernie’s house by cutting the wire to the back door.

“But all they found was an empty cash register,” he said.

Every day feels like a rush now. He doesn’t know when he’ll be able to reopen in space and estimates he’s losing up to $12,000 a week, but says he’s one of the lucky ones. His restaurant suffered one of the least damages in the period of 15 companies.

“They were good people on the side,” Betts said. “Outside there are people crying every day, putting roses on the fence.”

Bernie suffered both fire and water damage to the roof and was forced to throw away hundreds of polystyrene containers and much of whatever was left at the time of the fire, although the room to eat remains finally usable and that he was able to recover his fryers, grills and tables.

Down in the one-story place, others weren’t so lucky. Founding chef Danny Cheng has been serving Mandarin, Sichuan and Hunan-style cuisine in the kitchen of Golden China restaurant since 1983. The fire shut down his restaurant on September 17 and the next day a representative said it could take a year complete. for the restaurant to reopen. Several other business owners told The Times they had been told the restaurant would not reopen at all, although Golden China’s Yelp page says a reopening is scheduled for Nov. 30. The phone line is disconnected and the restaurant has not responded to several requests for comment by other means.

A side view of a series of businesses destroyed by fire.

Since the September 17 fire, temporary fencing has been placed around the exterior of several businesses. Many remain barricaded from the public, whether by fencing or heavy chains locked to the front doors.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Five doors down, the family that owns and operates Jamaican restaurant The Jerk Spot said it was the second fire their restaurant had survived at the mall in the past six years, having been tenants for eight year.

“So getting the call this time set off alarm bells,” owner Courtney Williams said. “Fortunately for us again, we didn’t take any damage.”

However, from the week after the fire, business was much slower, the Williams say. their regular clientele who stopped for curries, patties, jerk salmon, red beans and rice and other delicacies after appointments for nails or massages or dry cleaning has stopped. In the weeks that followed, calls from fans began to come in, asking if they were open to service; business picked up slightly, although they continued to lose business after the fire.

Yet perhaps what stings the most is seeing some of their friends shutting down their businesses along the row – some for good.

“It was a relief to see we weren’t on fire, but it was disheartening to see what happened next,” Williams said. “With some shop owners we had a good relationship, so of course it hurts us to have them affected in this way.”

US Donuts and Tom’s #5, both located opposite the mall from Bernie’s Soul Kitchen, remain open with little to no damage; weeks later, customers still arrive at once to express how relieved they are that the restaurants survived the event.

Two weeks after the fire, Betts, gathered for a food drive in a Westchester parking lot, said he hoped to remain a tenant in the Palms building. For now, he’s cooking in Hawthorne and on the waiting list for a ghost kitchen in Hollywood, which would give him a more central base for pickups and deliveries. The fire set him back financially, but his job and his clients kept him going.

“It’s not just money – money is the minimum,” he said. “Food is what matters most to me.”

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