VIDEO: The rebirth of a beloved Milan eatery
Jul 29, 2014 at 12:02 AM
The icon on the square of this village was going to re-open.
A fire was no match for Jim's Pizza Box, its supporters, patrons and friends and family of owner Jim West.
The day would come when Edison's marching band would play and, with a snap of a ribbon that came after a drum roll, patrons would filter into the restaurant, forming a line that snaked its way outside to once again eat in a not only re-opened but improved Jim's Pizza Box known, among other things, for its spaghetti nights.
That day came Monday.
A little more than five months to the day after a fire of undetermined cause destroyed Jim's Pizza Box, a late afternoon/evening of revelry commenced. There were hugs, kisses, balloons, smiles -- and West warned there would be tears if he talked too much about his emotions as he took it all in.
(NOTE: To see pictures of the event, click HERE.)
"It's overwhelming. Don't get my crying," said the 58-year-old, who has overseen the restaurant/gathering place for 36 years, working about 70 hours a week.
While West didn't cry, he smiled plenty -- something he likely couldn't do the day after the fire caused $350,000 worth of damage to the restaurant and living quarters upstairs.
West was "emotionally tired" at the time, he said, and wasn't sure if he had the energy to do everything necessary to re-open.
But then his wife, Jennifer, told him about the hundreds of emails, text messages and Facebook posts that came flooding in, supporting the family and its business.
West recalled his son, Jim West Jr., said "we're going forward. There's no going back."
Jim West Jr. owns West Insurance & Financial Services, LLC. The business carries the insurance policy on the restaurant. The younger West said he handled the reconstruction from start to finish.
"It was definitely pay back to my dad for my college education," the 32-year-old said.
He described the feeling that came with the re-opening as a relief.
"It has been a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point," he said, adding there's "nothing better than seeing hard work pay off."
It paid off not only in a re-opening but a resurgence. The restaurant is the same size, but the younger West referred to the new "open dining" concept that features open windows so diners can overlook the square. The video game room is soundproof, while old wallpaper has been replaced by "authentic Italian colors." Olive green and Tuscan walls greet customers, as does tile in the main dining room. There are new televisions and a big screen in the private party room. Folks on Monday walked into the aroma of a new business.
Of course, the older West said if he could go back in time, the fire wouldn't have happened.
His son said the pre-fire eatery had a "tired" ambiance and the decor was old, but Jim West Sr. "loved everything about it."
So, apparently, did legions of others, including rural Milan resident Ruth Moyer. She said she's been eating at Jim's for 36 years.
"It was terrible," she said about the shuttered restaurant, although she ate at Jim's Huron location in the meantime.
On Monday, Moyer handed the elder West a bag which contained an "OSU Santa" as a gift. She also gave him a hug and kiss.
Moyer said she didn't think the day of the re-opening would come so soon.
But it was going to come, said several people interviewed Monday. The rallying and outpouring from the community served to counter any doubt or hopelessness fueled by the Feb. 19 fire. Such support kept the family going, said Adam Zadell, the elder West's nephew.
"A fire can't keep us down," restaurant co-owner Nancy Willard said. "This is a good day. We've been waiting five months. We knew it would (open again)."
There was never any doubt, Willard said.
The elder West's 9-year-old son, Michael, was also happy.
"It feels nice," said the fourth-grader, who helps out at the Milan and Huron restaurants. "After these five months it's been hard."
The day after the fire, the lead to a Reflector story about the fire was a quote attributed to Milan resident Don Gfell.
"People are really going to miss this for a while," he said at the time.
Flash forward to Monday.
"I can't wait to see the people. I missed all the people. It was a loss in my life," said Jim West Sr.'s sister, Kim.
She doesn't have to miss them or the restaurant any longer.
Milan Police Officer Michelle Kallas reported the fire. She was sitting stationary at the intersection of East Ohio 113 and South Ohio 601 at 2 a.m. when she "noticed heavy black smoke coming from what looked to be behind Jim's Pizza Box."
Kallas notified West, North Central EMS and the Milan Township Fire Department, which received mutual aid from Norwalk and Huron firefighters.
Police chief Bob Meister praised Kallas' quick thinking and actions.
"I was really proud of my police officer. She spotted smoke coming from the rear of the building and had the fire department toned out immediately," the chief said.