Moy's owner says he'll rebuild

Cause of blaze still unclear

By Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Jan. 9, 2007, 10:38 a.m.)

Paul Moy had a ritual for more than 30 years as a restaurant owner. He'd be the first one there in the morning to get things going, and at night he'd check over everything in his place from stoves to coffee pots before he'd lock up.

With every precaution taken Sunday night, he can't imagine why his popular Chinese restaurant, Moy's Restaurant, caught fire early Monday morning.

"It's my routine to check my place," Moy said. "I never expect my place to have a fire."

Even through his stunned state of mind Monday afternoon, Moy said with confidence that he will reopen as soon as he can.

Investigators were still trying to determine the cause of the blaze. Fire Chief Rod Smith said the fire started in the kitchen area.

There was no one in the building, on the corner of Walworth and Wisconsin streets, when the fire was reported at 5:17 a.m.

Fire crews were staying out of the two-story kitchen area until structural engineers could determine the building was safe, Smith said.

The kitchen was an addition to the otherwise four-story structure, built in 1893. The remainder of the building is still solid, Smith said.

The fire was contained to the kitchen and the ceiling above, but the restaurant and lounge areas occupying the entire first floor sustained heavy smoke and water damage.

Moy expects renovations to take between three and five months. About 26 full- and part-timers worked for Moy.

He doesn't know what he'll do himself in the meantime, but running a restaurant is in his blood.

"I think cooking is a lot of fun," said the do-it-all Moy, who at 58 does everything at his restaurant from cook, to wash dishes to welcome customers. "I've been working in a restaurant since I was kid in Chicago."

Moy's menu of homemade dishes has been a staple of Elkhorn's downtown since he opened in 1979. Even though the offerings are predominantly Chinese cuisine, Moy's was also known for a good steak, Moy said.

"I happen to know. If you want a good steak, you go and see Paul," said Moy's attorney Lowell Sweet, who is helping plan for the remodel.

The restaurant brought in about 150 people on weekday nights in summer and about 285 people on weekends, Moy said. Winter times slowed to 75-95 customers on weeknights and 225 on weekends.

"They've had a wonderful reputation for a number of years," said Diane Riese, executive director of the Elkhorn Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Center. "It was such a well-known restaurant. It certainly is a loss for the city. We certainly hope he will rebuild."

Fire Chief Smith said Monday morning that rebuilding would take a lot of work since the 100-plus-year-old building would need to meet today's stricter fire codes.

The building first opened as the Elkhorn House hotel in 1893, owned by T.H. O'Brien, according to an Elkhorn history book.

It took the spot of the Central House hotel, which was razed a few years earlier.

The Elkhorn House changed hands several times including a 1929 sale to Nick Sklavenitis, who renamed it the Loraine Hotel in honor of his wife, according to the history book.

Sklavenitis renovated the building and in 1931 added a restaurant. In 1940, he turned that into a modern coffee shop.

Also in the 1930s, part of the structure housed the Loraine Dress Shop and later the Vanity Beauty Parlor.

The old hotel changed hands six more times in the 40s and 50s and underwent another name change. Lex Samaras called it The Coach House.

In 1969, the hotel underwent another remodeling on the first two floors and the upper floors were vacated. The name was changed to Court Yard Inn for a time until former Green Bay Packer Bob Long bought and ran the restaurant.

Before becoming Moy's the restaurant was known as Mandell's Steak House, which closed in 1976, according to the history book.

The hotel originally had a working clock and was used as a bus station, said Elkhorn Historian Doris Reinke.

The hotel was "one of the city's imposing landmarks," according to the history book.



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