'It seemed like a joke': Owner of Ottawa's Allium shares heartbreak after devastating fire
Christina Succi, CTV Ottawa
Published Wednesday, March 13, 2019 11:09PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, March 14, 2019 4:02PM EDT
The owner of a popular west-end restaurant is sharing his heartbreak following a devastating fire nearly two weeks ago.
"It just seemed like a joke or a dream," said Jana as he assessed the damage at the location on Holland Avenue.
"It just felt surreal, more than anything."
Jana was out of town when the fire broke out in the early morning hours of March 1.
"We were in Chicago for my birthday," said Jana.
"I heard my phone buzzing, 65 text messages, 20 missed calls."
Neigbours who called 9-1-1 reported hearing a loud bang before seeing flames and smoke.
The fire, which is believed to have started near the back of the building and on the second-story, was deemed suspicious by the Ottawa Police Arson Unit.
Jana moved to Ottawa from Saskatoon in 2001, and opened Allium in 2004.
"Three years of losing money, five years without turning any profits, three years without a salary," said Jana looking back on fifteen years as owner of Allium.
"When we came to see the place [Friday], it didn't feel real, but Monday morning when we're supposed to go to work, it started to sink in a little bit."
Jana's wife and general manager of Allium Maggie Von Zer Muehlen describes the scene as devastating.
"I realized it wasn't small at all, it was huge," said Von Zer Muehlen.
"My stomach just dropped."
Von Zer Muehlen says Allium is a restaurant she is proud to be a part of.
"We don't have children, we have a restaurant, this is our baby," said Von Zer Muehlen.
"I've experienced a fair amount of loss in my life but nothing can prepare you for this."
The Hintonburg staple is beloved by the community, but the restaurant remains closed for now, putting Jana and Von Zer Muehlen along with ateam of 18 out of work.
Jana says he's been told the earliest to reopen would be 8 months.
"We absolutely want to stay here, we love this area," said Jana.
"We hope to open soon, it won't be that soon, hopefully this year."
Jana says he's been contacted by hundreds lending support and well wishes, and thanks the community for their help.
A woman and her daughter living next door to Allium were displaced by the fire but no one was hurt.
There was also a fire on the second-storey above Allium in 2007 that closed the restaurant for 3 months.
Ottawa Police say the investigation is ongoing.