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Monday’s fire has left Coo owner Mamoru Aizawa devastated, with one restaurant up in smoke and still unable to access his other restaurant six doors down in the Sydney Building.
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Sydney Building fire
Raw vision: Firefighters are trying to put out a fire that began in a restaurant in the historic Sydney Building.
Mr Aizawa owns Coo, where the fire is thought to have started, and Iori, a popular Japanese eatery in the same strip.
Coo owner Mamoru Aizawa spoke on Tuesday with the chef working in the kitchen in the Sydney Building restaurant at the time of Monday's fire, but gleaned little more about the cause.
Mr Aizawa said the chef was still in shock and deeply depressed and doesn't remember what happened. He told Mr Aizawa that he had lit the pilot light on the stove and left the building before the explosion. By the time he returned, police and fire were there and the restaurant was in flames. On Monday the chef was in shock and unable to speak. ''He shut down. He just couldn't talk, he was just crying,'' Mr Aizawa said.
By Tuesday, he was able to speak with Mr Aizawa, but their conversation on Tuesday was made more difficult by language barriers. The Korean chef has poor English and speaks only a little Japanese.
''He doesn't remember what happened,'' Mr Aizawa said. ''But what he knows is that he left the kitchen … he switched on the pilot light and he went out.'' The fire blew out the entrance of Coo and forced other businesses in the building to close. Mr Aizawa still had no access to his other restaurant Iori, six doors down, and no information on whether the restaurant had been damaged by smoke or worse. Nor could he access the reservations book to call diners.
''If we can get access to Iori and we know hazard damage from smoke we could tell [how long it might be closed], but we can't see anything, we don't know how far the fire spread,'' he said. He was in contact with his real estate agent L. J. Hooker and with Worksafe in the hope of getting access.
Coo and Iori had more than 20 staff, including casuals, he said. He was hoping Iori could reopen so he could offer staff some reassurance about the future. ''It's terrible, terrible,'' he said, clearly in some shock himself earlier in the day.
Meanwhile, Misty Smartt, supervisor at the nearby Zambrero restaurant, said she had to call staff members to tell them not to come into work on Tuesday.
"They told us they have to wait for health and safety checks and for engineers to come in and check the building is OK and right now it is even too toxic for anyone to be let in," she said.
"I asked for a police escort to even go in and get all of our food out because it's gone bad. They won't let me in." Ms Smartt said local businesses could lose three days of trading.
Abdul Osman, manager of the East Row IGA supermarket, which is adjacent to Civic Bus Interchange, said trade was down by about 90 per cent on Tuesday. "The bus interchange is our main [source of] trade so it has a huge impact on our daily sales.
"The sooner it opens up the better for us, but until then we will be suffering from loss of trade. "There's probably a little bit of smoke in the store.
An ACT Fire and Rescue officer told The Canberra Times that air testing was continuing around the fire scene, before investigators and engineers could be let inside. East Row is expected to remain closed throughout Tuesday, and platforms 1-9 at the Civic interchange are redirected to other parts of the city.
“It’s terrible, terrible,” he said, clearly in some shock himself. "It just shouldn’t happen.”
Mr Aizawa also has another restaurant, Iori Plus, at the Croatian soccer club in Deakin. It remains open.
He is due to speak with insurers on Thursday.
Dance Generation Dance Studios is located directly above Coo restaurant and was severely damaged in Monday's fire.
Manager Gregg McInnes said he had not been allowed into the area yet, but police had told him the studio no longer had a floor or a ceiling.
"We were told by a student in the morning [of the fire], who called to make sure we weren't in the studio. We high tailed it in," he said.
"But when we saw all the smoke and the hose bursting in through the window, we didn't think there would be much hope."
Mr McInnes said the studio's owner, who is flying back to Canberra from Adelaide to assess the damage, was in shock at the news.
"She can't believe it. We paid for the whole fit out, the dance floor, the mirrors, the admin area. A lot of memories have gone up too, a lot of a photos and a lot of videos," he said.
Mr McInnes said the dance studio had been inundated with calls from students offering support and their houses, as they looked for alternate venues to hold classes in the lead up to their Autumn Ball.
Nearby Tosolinis was forced to close after the fire on Monday, but reopened mid-morning on Tuesday. Owner Carlo Tosolini said he had been working at the time.
“We heard this bang and next thing we looked across and a chair from inside the [Coo] restaurant had been blown out on the street and the shopfront had been blown out of the façade,” he said.
The building had been engulfed in smoke very soon after but Tosolinis had received no damage from smoke. Mr Tosolini was talking with insurers about loss of the day’s trade.