Firefighters spent a good portion of Wednesday continuing to extinguish small flare ups at the site of a fire that destroyed John A. Lau Saloon Tuesday, and the community continued to mourn its loss.
There may be little left to the recently updated restaurant, but charred timber, steel and brick, but already the community is rallying to support its owner Jon Benson and the employees of the business.
As word of the fire began to spread on social media, many people offered support and help to Benson, who is known for his generosity and charitable contributions to local causes. The concern and encouragement continued to be posted Wednesday.
Pam Richardson said Benson is one of the most giving and humble people she knows and admires him for the way he often thinks of others before himself. She said there have been many times where Benson has stepped up to support causes, without wanting acknowledgment.
“I have personally asked him for donations for fundraisers of all sorts, from kids sports to Zonta. He has never declined me or many others who reached out to him,” Richardson said. “He is always giving back to the community and you may not realize how much because he doesn’t seek recognition. He is a humble, good man. I ask that we all come together when he needs our help.”
Phil Agius echoed Richardson’s opinion and added that for years Benson has made it possible for many youngsters in the Alpena area to play sports and enjoy other activities. He added Benson always seemed to go above and beyond what people expected.
“Every kid in this town, and a lot of adults, have benefitted from Jon’s generosity,” Agius said. “I’ve been to charity dinners in town two or three times where there are 600 people at the event and Jon donated all the food, prep and staff, 100 %. Unreal.”
Life has understandably been a bit crazy for Benson the last several days, but as others have stated, his biggest concern is his employees. He said he wants to refrain from making any comment as to his businesses at this time, but did say he appreciates the support and concern the people in Alpena have shared with him.
“I appreciate it and am humbled they are reaching out the way they are,” he said. “My biggest concern right now is my help and getting my businesses back open. I am looking forward to serving everyone in the future.”
Benson’s restaurant, J.J.’s Steak & Pizza House, is directly across the street from where the fire occurred. The business was directly in the line of the billowing smoke and he said crews worked all day Wednesday cleaning. He said there was a good chance the popular eatery could be back open today.
Putting the fire out, and limiting the damage to other buildings was no easy chore.
In order to limit the damage and push back the flames, it took a wide-spread effort from emergency personnel in Alpena, Montmorency, Presque Isle and Alcona counties.
Alpena Fire Chief Bill Forbush said there was a large mutual-aid response that led to 20 city firefighters battling the blaze, as well as 20 more combined from Alpena Township, Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, as well as Presque Isle Township.
Because of the large amount of aid provided, Forbush said Presque Isle Township took a tanker truck to the Alpena Township North station to cover emergency calls and both the Village of Hillman and Alcona County had emergency response units set up near the county lines to take calls in those areas if needed. City, county and state police were also critical to traffic and crowd control, Forbush said.
The Red Cross was also on scene to provide support.
“It was executed perfectly and our mutual aid partners were critical to the response,” he said.
Forbush said there were some close calls during the fire. He said a pair of walls collapsed, which sent bricks and debris as far as across Second Avenue.Two fire vehicles were slightly damaged from the heat and heavy smoke, Forbush said.
Forbush said there were some antiques and relics that were saved and turned over to Benson. Firefighters battled the blaze for hours and Forbush said as he does so often, Benson was worried about others, as he watched his business be destroyed by the fire.
“As soon as the kitchen was open, he had his staff making pizza for first responders,” Forbush said. “He was watching his building burn, and still was worried about making sure our guys were taken care of, unreal.”
Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.