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Staff of decimated Las Palmas determined to carry on

Repair costs unknown for Mexican restaurant that caught fire Tuesday, but employees commit to event catering
Las Palmas Mexican Cuisine in Jacksonville has received an outpouring of community support since a fire closed the restaurant Tuesday. [Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune]

Even after a fire Tuesday in downtown Jacksonville made Las Palmas Mexican Cuisine uninhabitable for the foreseeable future, its staff is trying to keep a positive vibe by thanking the community for an outpouring of support and by catering at some previously scheduled events.

The business, at 210 E. California St., prominently displayed Friday a large banner, saying “thank you” and “we’ll keep you posted on our progress and re-opening” even as salvageable items were removed and the extent of damage was assessed. While Luis Rodriguez, Las Palmas’ manager, doesn’t know how much it will cost to repair his beloved business of 20 years, the community he serves is forefront in his mind.

“Our customers are what make us what we are and have made us throughout the year,” Rodriguez said. “Most of them we consider friends and treat them like family.”

Which is why he and the staff at Las Palmas will cater at weddings using a food truck.

“They were expecting us to be out there, so we’re going to pull through,” said Rodriguez, who did three events after the fire, with two more scheduled Oct. 1.

Just because it’s possible to cater doesn’t mean it will be easy, the manager said.

“With the smoke, everything became a loss, as far as food items go. You have to find every single ingredient, and that becomes a task in and of itself,” Rodriguez said. “But we’re making it happen for these people.”

In the days since the fire, a restoration and cleaning company the restaurant hired came into the establishment and salvaged all usable items, which will be placed into storage.

“I’m learning, too, but a lot of items — even though they look OK — they’re still not salvageable,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve been in there very little; the smell of smoke is still pretty heavy.”

While the turmoil of losing a brick-and-mortar restaurant swirls, Rodriguez admits he spends a lot of his time trying to take his mind off what happened.

“I went to my kids’ open house,” he said. “I’m just doing things regular people do.”

Rodriguez does want his employees to be compensated even if they’re not actually working.

“We’ve been in talks about making everybody whole through this process,” he said.

It can be difficult to think about the business side of things when “we still feel like our world is a little upside down,” Rodriguez added.

On Las Palmas’ Facebook page, plenty of community members showed their support.

“You have so much support from friends and community; it’s beautiful to see,” Marne Johnson-Borecki wrote. “Looking forward to Las Palmas 2.0.”

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.