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Don Jose's Mexican restaurant burns but family leans on each other for support

By by Dianna Wray
Nov. 27, 2010 at 5:27 a.m.
Updated Nov. 29, 2010 at 5:29 a.m.

Frank Juarez is determined to bounce back from the early morning fire that damaged his business, Don Jose Mexican Restaurant at 2902 E. Airline. Juarez and his siblings are planning to  re-open in the same location when the remodeling is complete. Until then, he is looking for a temporary site to continue making a living.

A fire may have destroyed their business, but Ana Cassas, one of the owners of Don Jose Mexican Restaurant, said it helped having family there to support her and her siblings.

Within minutes of the fire that left the windows of the restaurant blackened with smoke, a cluster of extended family had already gathered around the owners, ready to support them in their loss.

Cassas held tightly onto her oldest sister as she said she was thankful no one was hurt, thankful for family.

"It's overwhelming, but we're glad to be alive and glad no one was hurt," Cassas said.

The fire started at Don Jose Mexican Restaurant, 2902 E. Airline Road, at about 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

The fire was started by a malfunctioning ice machine located in the office area of the restaurant, Battalion Fire Chief Shannon Martin said.

"It took about two seconds for us to get here," family member Donna Trevino said. "We heard about it, and everyone was texting and on their cell phones to get over here. That's just how our family is."

The Victoria Fire Department was called to the scene at 7:41 a.m. and it took about 30 minutes to put out the flames with 18 firefighters on the scene, three fire engine pumpers, one ladder truck and two ambulances.

Now, the family is just trying to deal with the situation and begin picking up the pieces. The restaurant is a family-owned business, run by siblings Sara Juarez, Francisco Juarez and Cassas.

The three siblings started the restaurant four years ago after spending years working in other restaurants, Cassas said.

Waitress Michelle Garza had been working since 5:30 a.m. when she saw the smoke from the fire.

"I don't know what happened. Sara got here and walked into the office, and all of the sudden there was black smoke," Garza said.

The staff had just been through fire safety training, Victoria Fire Chief Vance Riley said, which probably helped them to react quickly by calling the fire department and getting everyone out of the restaurant. He said it was this quick thinking that probably kept anyone from being injured.

The office area received extensive damage from the fire, while the rest of the restaurant sustained extreme heat, smoke and water damage.

Terry Keen, building superintendent for James Wayne Properties, the owner of the building, said the building didn't seem to have sustained any major damage.

"It depends on what the insurance says, but it looks like we may just be able to gut and remodel the place," Keen said.

Francisco Juarez said they have already started looking for a new location for the restaurant, while they wait the three to four months it will take to repair the damage.

Juarez said they hope to open at a new temporary location by next week. He is considering a location near Rio Grande and Navarro streets.

Still, it will be difficult for the family and the employees.

"This place is the bread and butter for all of us," Juarez said.

"It's a real loss ... This was their dream for a long time. It's difficult," Garza said.

Juarez said he appreciated the support of the family.

"That's the best thing you can do when something like this happens, to have your family support you," he said.

But they're grateful for the good things. The restaurant was scheduled to cater a niece's wedding on Saturday. Cassas was worried about it, but the food was stored in coolers and managed to survive the fire to make it to the reception.

"You've just gotta make the best out of what you've got. That's what we're going to do," she said.



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