By Rosemary K. Otzman
It has been eight and a half months since the electrical fire that devastated Five Star Market and its new sit-down Benito’s Pizza Parlor that was being constructed next door.
Last week, owner Roy Acho re-opened his business with 16 of the 18 employees he had last Nov. 17 when the fire erupted. And, everyone is excited to be there.
“Everything is new,” Acho said, showing off his party store with the epoxy floor that shines like it is always wet.
The owners of the bakery shop in the complex said Acho was as excited as a father with a newborn to be able to reopen his business.
“We were three weeks away from opening the dining room when the fire happened,” Acho said Friday, as he sat in a booth in his new, 40-seat restaurant with a full view of the pizza kitchen, while workers put up his new sign out front.
The walls of the dining room are decorated with bright posters and items Acho personally has collected over the years.
Since the fire was at the front of the building in the party store, he said the dining room just suffered smoke damage. All he had to do was reupholster the booths and paint the walls again.
The hair salon that Acho moved down to the end of the building to make way for his dining room was aired out in a day.
His restaurant now has state licenses for bottled beer and liquor by the glass, but the whole thing is based on the Benito’s Pizza they serve.
“Our dream was to have a sit-down restaurant,” Acho said, explaining they opened their pizzeria in 1995 and have been producing carry-out and delivered pizza for 20 years. It’s been about 60% delivery and 40% carry out.
“Our pizza is excellent. We put it in a box and then a hot bag, but it loses a bit of quality in the process.
“When we can go oven to plate: It can’t get any better,” Acho said.
He said the party store opened in 1991 and was owned by him and Jeff Haisha. The two also owned Hayward’s together in the City of Belleville.
He said the co-owners split up amicably and are still the best of friends. Acho took Five Star and Haisha took Hayward’s.
Acho remembered that when they were at Hayward’s, Benito’s next door would bring over pizzas to share after someone made a mistake in the preparation. Acho said it was always delicious, even with the mistakes. After ten years at Hayward’s, he never got tired of the pizza, he said.
He said his wife Debbie had the idea to open a pizzeria at the Sumpter store.
Acho bought the building from Jeannie Chudzinski in 2012.
It was time to get moving on Debbie’s idea. The salon was next door, so Acho remodeled the empty suite at the end and moved the hair salon there.
“She got a brand-new place and is doing very well,” Acho said.
On Sunday, Acho invited about 45 family and friends in for a test: “To see how we handle a full house.”
The routine is for a customer to come to the counter and order, then go sit down. The customer is called when the order is ready.
He plans to hold a grand opening and ribbon-cutting in the future and invites everyone to stop by.
“It took our entire crew to get the store opened,” Acho said of his team. “Everybody was thrilled to get back to work.”
Acho said he used all local contractors on the rebuilding. He said he used Rob Szyndler of Lake Pointe Construction who was there the night of the fire and boarded everything up for him and is still working.
“We couldn’t have done it without him.”
He said all four of his kids and his wife were instrumental in getting things going. Also, Sumpter Township was great in helping him along, especially the building department, he said.
Since there was no store to tend over the winter, the whole family went to Las Vegas for a pizza convention. They looked at new equipment, attended seminars, and saw up-to-date operations.
“It got depressing at times. It got maddening at times,” Acho said of the delays in rebuilding.
“The insurance companies are not your friends,” Acho said. “A sense of urgency is woefully deficient compared to the people who suffered a loss and need your help.”
Acho said he went into debt to get the business back in shape and, luckily, he had friends and family with resources to share. And, the vendors are giving him time to make payments since they know it is coming.
By Rosemary K. Otzman