Blaze Won't Keep Small Cafe Closed
By KARLAYNE R. PARKER kparker@tampatrib.com
Published: Dec 27, 2003




PLANT CITY - Harold Perez had a huge appetite. He passed up another restaurant in hopes of having his favorite meal at The Baker Street Cafe.
But when he arrived, he saw the sign that said the cafe was closed due to a fire earlier this month.

Inside, was the owner, her servers and some family members.

``We are opening shortly after Christmas,'' said Julie Morris as she opened the door to Perez, who stepped halfway inside of the restaurant at 1801 W. Baker St.

Disappointed but in good spirits, Perez replied, ``I wanted my scrambled eggs and home fries. I hope everything works out. Happy Holidays.''

There were others who stopped by on Tuesday. Some came to sit and sip a Coke while talking to the owners and employees who have become like family. Others never left their cars and drove off once they saw the note on the door.

``It could have been a lot worse,'' said 33-year-old Morris. ``It's a tragedy, but it's fixable.

``I just hope they [the customers] come back.''

The Baker Street Cafe closed Dec. 17 after a fire begun by a short in a power surge protector caused $23,000 in damage.

Plant City Police Officer Melvin Towles was passing the restaurant about 11 p.m. when he saw smoke rising above the tiny building that seats 44.

Minutes later, firefighters forced their way inside the building to douse the flames in the kitchen, where the fire started.

Co-owner Jannie Getty said she felt lucky the damage wasn't worse. The restaurant's fire extinguishing system started putting out the fire before firefighters arrived.

Getty, who has insurance coverage, had planned to open last weekend, but repairs to the restaurant didn't go as quickly as she wanted.

``It's the holidays,'' she said. ``And everyone is stacked up.''

A couple of her regular customers, who both own construction companies, put in a new door and have said they will fix the ceiling in the kitchen.

``We have the best customers,'' Morris said.


Help From Friends

Getty also has friends in the restaurant business. The day after the fire, Getty held a catered Christmas party at Orange Blossom Tea Room, 106 S. Evers St., which is owned by her friend Jim Pollard.

``He's my friend and we help each other,'' she said.

Getty has been co-owner of The Baker Street Cafe since February. The small cafe, located on a sliver of land, has been home to other popular restaurants over the years.

Margaret Pitre, 68, who has lived in Plant City for 38 years, has been a customer of just about every establishment in that location. She eats breakfast at Baker Street Cafe every day.

When she arrived about 11:30 a.m. Dec. 18, her usual time, and saw ``Julie wearing long pants, I knew something was wrong,'' Pitre said.

``She always wears shorts,'' she said of Morris, who is from New York.

When Pitre heard the news,``I cried. They are like my family.

``I've just been coming here every day [since the fire] to see the progress and I wonder where I'm going to eat.''

The restaurant, known for its specials and home cooked healthy helpings, has a reputation for good service.

Getty said that is partially due to Morris, who remembers each customer's name and what each likes to eat.

Morris has a good attitude about being temporarily unemployed. She said her family is living off her Christmas savings.

``This is the longest time I've been off and I'm not liking it,'' she said.

``You don't expect anything like this to happen,'' Morris said.

Hundreds of customers have called the restaurant.

``They're not my customers,'' Morris said. ``They are my friends.''

Another customer, Vernon Cannon, parked his truck and decided he would sit a while, sip a Coke, and chat with Morris and other customers.

He was surprised to see the cafe was still closed.

``I just come here and socialize. Then I eat,'' said Cannon, who was planning to go out of town for the holidays. ``You'll be open when I get back.''


Reporter Karlayne R. Parker can be reached at (813) 754-3763.