Nelson Rodriguez said he and his business partner, Paul Schiller, want to reopen the beloved diner at 3407 W. Belmont Ave., but there’s only a small chance that can happen given the extensive damage.
“The reality is insurance companies are fickle, money is extremely tight,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a lot of damage. … There’s nothing salvageable.”
Fire officials said Friday the flames were caused by a build-up of grease in the restaurant’s exhaust hood. No one was injured in the fire, but it tore through the building, torching everything in its path.
Rodriguez and his wife, who have lived above the restaurant for more than 15 years, didn’t just lose their business — they lost their home and all of their belongings.
“Right now, for me, I have the clothes on my back and I have my car,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said he, his wife and their 19-year-old daughter were home when the fire started around 7 p.m. He said he tried to put the fire out with two different fire extinguishers from the restaurant but neither one worked.
As the fire spread, the family grabbed their chihuahua weiner dog mix, Holiday, and rushed outside, Rodriguez said.
It took firefighters about an hour to put out the blaze. Rodriguez and his family watched as flames overtook the building at the center of their lives for 15 years.
“It was everything, my entire life for the last two decades, but it doesn’t matter. … At least no one died. That’s all that mattered to me,” Rodriguez said.
Asked about the cause of the fire, Rodriguez said the restaurant is cleaned thoroughly. The restaurant passed its last city health inspection on August 11, according to city records.
If Belmont Snack Shop were to close permanently, it would be the end of a decades-long run.
It first opened sometime in the 1980s and was known as K&S Snack Shop, Rodriguez said. Rodriguez’ parents eventually took it over and renamed it D&L Snack Shop. Rodriguez and Schiller took over the 24-hour diner in 2011.
Over the years, the diner was known for its old-school vibes, greasy food and late-night hours.
“Belmont Snack Shop obviously was a mainstay in our area,” Rodriguez said. “We encountered so many great people that come in. You know them by their names. In this day [and] age, you don’t have that much. We don’t have a society where you know people by their names.”
In the upcoming weeks, Rodriguez said they’ll be working with their insurance company to determine if it’s possible to rebuild. But he noted their lease is up at the end of the year.
Complicating the situation is Belmont Snack Shop, like countless other restaurants across Chicago, has had a rocky six months as the city battles the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout.
Rodriguez said the restaurant was able to stay afloat in part because of customers who stepped up and donated more than $3,000 to their online fundraiser earlier this year.
“We genuinely appreciate everything the community has done for us,” he said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better community or a better city to have a 24-hour diner, which in this and age, those are becoming obsolete.”
Rodriguez said he doesn’t want to see Chicago lose another restaurant.
“We’re going to try our best. We’re not giving up,” he said.
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