John Ginopolis, 71, surveys the rebuilding at his Ginopolis Bar-B-Q Smokehouse after a Dec. 16 fire. (Charles V. Tines / The Detroit News)
There’s never a good time to hear this, but there’s a worst time, and mid-December was it.
John Ginopolis remembers the date, Dec. 16, because the Detroit Lions were busy losing on Monday Night Football. The next day, Ginopolis’ Bar-B-Q Smokehouse in Farmington Hills was hosting its first holiday party of the season and kicking off its busiest three weeks of the year.
That was the plan, at least. But then a woman popped through the front door and asked, “Did you know your roof is on fire?”
The flames started in the machine that’s supposed to lovingly smoke the Texas brisket and St. Louis ribs. They shot upward through the stack, and by the time the fire department put things back in order, close to 30 employees were on their way to being idled just as they thought they’d be funding Christmas.
In theory, Ginopolis’ will reopen Wednesday or Thursday with a glad-to-see-you-again January special: all the St. Louis ribs you can eat for only $16.99.
It’s probably wise to call first, though — (248) 851-8222 — because in the restaurant business, Murphy’s Law is always on the menu.
In Grand Blanc, for instance, while Ginopolis’ was struggling with the aftereffects of fire, Da Edoardo North was losing a chunk of its holiday business to ice.
It’s yet another reminder that if you’ve always dreamed of owning a restaurant, you need to wake up.
Flint restaurant iced
The Da Edoardo cluster includes two restaurants in the Grosse Pointes, Da Edoardo Foxtown Grille in Detroit, and the location in a nice Flint suburb where overnight ice led to falling branches, snapped power lines and no electricity for most of Dec. 22-27.
“It’s mind-boggling, to be honest with you,” says third-generation proprietor Eddie Barbieri, 42.
He lost a party of 25 the first day and a full house the second. He thought he had electricity on the 27th, but it went out again — as a customer was en route from Frankenmuth with a party bus.
When the power finally came back in force, a surge fried the compressor in the beer cooler and one of the computers.
“My grandfather told me to go to college. I didn’t listen,” Barbieri says. “Well, I went to college, but I got into the restaurant business anyway.”
Ginopolis, 71, grew up in restaurants, too. He and his brother Pete, three years younger, took over a bar at 12 Mile and Middle Belt in 1979, and three years later they built it out into Ginopolis’ On the Grill.
Fire, smoke a shot to ribs
Ginopolis’ became a local institution, a place where Sparky Anderson, Chuck Daly and Liz Taylor didn’t just stop by to sign a photo.
Times have changed — lunchtime Manhattans and martinis have given way to iced tea, or maybe a glass of wine — but Montgomery Inn ribs still arrive by truck from the brothers’ uncle’s place in Cincinnati.
Building on that staple, Ginopolis’ tweaked its name and much of its menu in August 2011. Business picked up, and barbecue seemed like a dandy idea ... until it set the building ablaze.
More damage came from smoke and water than from the fire itself, John says. Blessedly, they’re well insured, and progress is visible through the chaos: on Thursday, things were finally being hauled into the building, not out.
Cardboard still covered the floor in the lounge and wires dangled from the ceiling, but the electrical guys, reconstruction guys, equipment guys, exhaust fan guys and paint guys sounded confident about next week.
All the food had to be trashed, of course, along with any open liquor and a lot of people’s holiday plans. But it could have been worse — or better, which gets back to timing.
“The fire chief told me we were half an hour away from losing everything,” John says.
Or to look at it another way, “I was half an hour from retirement.”