The current profile picture on Ping Pong’s Facebook page is a fiery phoenix, symbolizing the pan-Asian restaurant’s soon-to-be rise from a crippling kitchen fire last Friday, which shut it down indefinitely. Below that, a photo of hunky firefighters is posted to reassure Ping Pong fans that it hasn’t lost its spirit.
At around 11 a.m. Friday, the scene at Broadway and Aldine Avenue was a lot less inspiring as firefighters had to shatter the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows to reach a fire in the kitchen that started around stacks of boxes surrounding an overheated refrigerator, according to police. The fire caused extensive smoke and water damage, police reports say, as well as slight smoke damage to the Ultimate Exposure Tan Spa next door.
“I got that scary call right before 11,”owner Henry Chang said Monday before meeting with insurance agents. Chang also owns sushi bar Wakamono and Wang’s across the street on Broadway.
“The kitchen is out of whack right now, so we have to put that back together,” he added, while not knowing for sure exactly when Ping Pong would reopen.
Another Boystown business owner that knows that sinking feeling all too well is Scarlet owner Paul Cannella, whose bar suffered severe damages from a fire started by an apartment above it at Halsted Street and Buckingham Place in February 2009.
“I just know what it was like waking up and getting those calls and text messages and that sinking feeling,” Cannella said. “And I started thinking about [Ping Pong’s] staff, who work primarily on tip wages, who won’t have shifts coming in.”
Since there are no apartments above Ping Pong, no residents were displaced, but dozens of servers, hostesses and kitchen staffers will be affected until they rebuild again, Cannella said.
So, the Scarlet staff has been diligently making Jell-O shots and asking Boystown businesses for donations to a raffle and fundraiser for Ping Pong’s staff to be held Wednesday at Scarlet.
Scarlet’s benefit fundraiser for Ping Pong will offer $15 wristbands to patrons — with $10 going directly to Ping Pong staffers, Cannella said — for all-you-can-drink well cocktails and domestic beers and well as Jell-O and house shots from 7-10 p.m.
“I have been going to Ping Pong on almost a weekly basis for over five years,” said Kevin Neal, a Scarlet bartender and Boystown resident. “The owner, Henry, is very well-known in the community and a successful young business man — I think it’s important to help support other local businesses.”
Cannella said he didn’t know Chang too well before the fire but made it a point to meet with him this week to help him go through the paperwork process with his insurance company and the city. He also said that for him, having to revamp after his bar’s fire offered an opportunity for growth professionally and personally.
“I think in the long term the fire was one of the best things to ever happen to me,” he said. “It’s like they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It was a tremendous learning opportunity.”