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About four years ago, an Oak Park Italian restaurant was shuttered by a raging fire. It reopened months later after a massive renovation. Now the owners of Cucina Paradiso see another local business suffering through a similar ordeal, and they want to help.
Cucina, 814 North Blvd., plans to host a fundraiser for Prodigy Glassworks on Sept. 7, sharing 20 percent of all dinner sales that day. Restaurant co-owner Anthony Gambino said they identified strongly with Prodigy and its owner after the glass shop's building collapsed two weeks ago.
"We've been in the same position this kid's been in. There's a lot of questions with no answers, and I know exactly what he's going through because we've lived it," Gambino said. "It's horrifying that his livelihood is basically boarded up right now, with no answers."
Matt Kwilas poured "every penny" he had three years ago into opening his little glass shop on Harrison Street in Oak Park. Fast forward to today, and the 33-year-old Oak Parker can't enter his place of business, and the car he parked right out front is totaled.
Two weeks after the front of the building at 201-211 Harrison St. toppled, the building is still uninhabitable, according to the village. Kwilas said Wednesday that he doesn't have any money to relocate Prodigy Glassworks, after he spent $60,000 building out the space and adding a glass furnace.
"The fact of the matter is I am a starving artist. All of my life savings, every penny I have, I put into this business and this location," he said. "I don't have any money, I don't have any savings, and it's questionable how much my insurance is going to cover."
The collapse occurred the afternoon of Wednesday, Aug. 10, injuring one passerby and shutting down Harrison Street overnight. Last week, village hall issued 12 citations to the property owner, Chris Kleronomos, and the contractor working on the building.
Oak Park also deemed the one-story commercial property uninhabitable shortly after the collapse. The building is currently in foreclosure, and the court-appointed receiver who is overseeing it said Monday that it could take weeks before it's properly repaired for occupation.
Kwilas was working in his glass shop that day. He said it looked like a garage door was starting to close on the front of his storefront. Fortunately, the wall fell in such a way that none of the glasswork in his shop was damaged. However, his Ford Explorer wasn't so lucky.
"The only car I ever bought and paid for, crushed," he said.
Kwilas is nervous about the condition of his glass furnace, as it was shut down suddenly, rather than cooling down for hours as intended. He still has some blown glass left that he'll also sell at Cucina on Sept. 7, from 5 to 10 p.m. Kwilas said he plans to use any proceeds from the fundraiser to pay off some of the bills that keep trickling in.
Deerfield resident Paul Gong, 42, had been working to open an upscale Chinese restaurant called Yuan at the corner of the same property. He told Wednesday Journal in November that they hoped to start operating this spring, but it took much longer than anticipated to obtain permits, he said last week.
Gong, who also owns two nail salons in Oak Park, said he's thinks the restaurant will eventually launch.
"I'm still looking forward to opening the restaurant. I have confidence in that location," he said.
The building's other tenant, Briejo Restaurant, closed in July. Jody Andre, a consultant who helped start the eatery two years ago, said before the collapse that they planned to retool Briejo and revive it in mid-September with a new name and concept. On Monday, Andre said she and a prospective new owner, whom she declined to name, still hope to relaunch Briejo as an upscale pub called "Up."
But the sale is on hold until the restaurant reopens, Andre said, and the new partner is waiting to apply for permits.
"We still have all good intentions of reopening and getting this block going again," she said. "That's our biggest hope right now, but we're really under the gun with how the bank and village want to expedite this."
Kleronomos has not returned numerous calls seeking comment, and Steve Witt, the head of Oak Park's Building and Property Standards Department, could not be reached for comment.
Dan Harrington, the receiver who is overseeing the building, has been meeting with an architect, starting to redraw plans for the building. He said their main priority is getting the tenants back inside, but realistically it could be a couple of weeks before the interior work starts.