How does it feel to open your first brick and mortar restaurant, only to have a fire force you out of business less than a week later?
It’s not pleasant — and founder of caterer-turned-restaurant Kiffin, Natasha Alani, can tell you that. She and husband Aaron Fetherston opened their restaurant in the last week of April. Then around 5 a.m. on May 1, a fire broke out in a pile of polishing rags in the yoga studio above Kiffin’s St-Denis Street location.
Initially thinking it was a problem for the upstairs neighbour, Alani’s initial reaction was tame — until she arrived mid-morning to survey the scene.
“I was really wanted to make sure everything was OK and that nobody had gotten hurt, I was happy to hear that.”
“Then when we got there we learned that it was going to be bigger than we expected.”
“[In the beginning] we did think it was an unmistakable sign and that we should cut our losses, close down, and start job hunting.”
Fortunately, Kiffin was insured — but insurance coverage isn’t a magic spell that returns the business to normal, no effort required. For Alani, it was upsetting that she had called on friends and acquaintances to help get the restaurant up and running, and after the fire, all that effort appeared to be for naught.
“Our restaurant has a really strong social mission, which means that we don’t have deep pockets: we’re doing all of this stuff ourself. I’m doing my MBA at McGill and for the last six months all of our friends from the MBA class and beyond helped. We built our own furniture, we had friends donate some of the cost of the paint, a lot of love and help has gone in, so for us it felt like a tiny death. We were shell shocked.”
Cher communauté Kiffin, hier le 1 mai vers 5h du matin, il y a eu un incendie dans l'entreprise au dessus de la notre. Heureusement, personne n'a été blessé. Cependant, nous devons fermer le restaurant temporairement. Nous cherchons un espace temporaire et nous vous tiendrons au courant. N'hésitez pas à nous envoyer un message ou à nous rejoindre par courriel pour avoir plus d'informations. UNE BONNE ALIMENTATION, C'EST UN DROIT! Nous serons de retour dès que possible! Merci pour les gentils messages et les offres d'aide. C'est très apprécié et nous, et toutes les personnes qui nous ont aidé jusqu'à maintenant, sommes très reconnaissants. To our beloved Kiffin Community. Yesterday May 1st, at around 5am, a fire broke out in the business above ours. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. However, our space...your space...must remain temporarily closed. We are working on finding a temporary alternative space and we will keep you posted. Feel free to message us or join our email list for more information. GOOD FOOD IS A RIGHT! All of our beautiful goodies and classes will be back as soon as possible! Thank you for the kind messages, offers for help, and love. It means the world not only to us but to all of the people who have worked so hard to get us this far.
Once she realized she had to close down, Alani reached out to those people that helped, as well as her staff, to avoid added stress from them finding out some other way.
The fire was concentrated in the yoga studio, so fortunately Kiffin wasn’t exactly wiped out (items like furniture mostly survived). But it put holes in the ceiling, causing enough damage so that Kiffin had to move everything straight out of the space again — not Alani’s idea of a fun time.
“Do you know the myth of Sisyphus? He’s punished and has to roll a ball up a hill, and roll it back down and roll it up the next day, but he gets out of the punishment because he falls in love with the boulder. I read that book as a young person and I’ve never felt closer to that being my reality — I feel like I need to fall in love with the situation and roll my boulder back up, I have no other choice.”
Mercifully, Alani’s helpers were willing to pitch in again
“There was offers to help us move, offers to help us clean, so when we realized we had to take everything out we had ten wonderful people there to help move everything. Even our staff were really supportive.”
Because the restaurant’s new space was the hub for the catering side of Kiffin, the fire delivered an extra blow, forcing Alani to cancel some orders: a move she says was surprisingly well-received.
“It was really great to know how the customers responded, they said you take care of you, don’t worry, we’ll come back.”
But they’ll have to wait until June — Alani says it’ll take around six weeks to reopen.