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Tom Smart, Deseret News
The inside of Jim's Family Restaurant is seen after a fire ripped through the building early Thursday morning.

WEST JORDAN — It was a restaurant that rarely bought any advertising, but some considered it a landmark.

The customers were loyal, and the restaurant's reputation was kept alive by word-of-mouth.

Rather than, "Can I take your order?" it was more common for an employee to greet a customer by their first name and ask, "Are you having your usual?"

Employees at Jim's Family Restaurant, 7609 S. Redwood Road, closed the eatery at 10 p.m. Wednesday and had the building locked up and everyone out by 10:30 p.m. Employees returned to the restaurant Thursday morning, but all there was to do was stare at the rubble and wait to see if anything inside was salvageable.

A three-alarm fire ripped through the restaurant early Thursday, causing an estimated $1.5 million in damage. Fire crews considered the building a total loss.

There were some tense moments while fighting the blaze when the roof partially collapsed on six firefighters.

"It knocked off some helmets and knocked them to the ground," said West Jordan Fire Battalion Chief Reed Scharman.

Immediately the "Mayday" call went out. The room filled with thick smoke. Fortunately, no firefighters were pinned and there was another group of four already in the structure. Those firefighters helped the others off the floor and led them out of the building, Scharman said. No one suffered any serious injuries.

By the time firefighters were out, flames had started to poke through the roof, Scharman said. Firefighters went into a defensive mode, meaning all they could do was pour water on the restaurant from the outside and prevent it from spreading to other structures.

Fire crews originally received the call just before midnight Wednesday of light smoke coming from the roof. When crews arrived, they found the space between the tile ceiling and the roof filled with smoke, Scharman said. As firefighters started pulling tiles off the ceiling to fight the blaze, part of the ceiling collapsed on them.

Owner Chris Tzakis was called and arrived at his business about 12:30 a.m.

"I really couldn't believe it. It was surreal," he said. "Whenever you spend so much time and your sweat … I spent more time here than with my wife. I think she's jealous of this place."

Tzakis owns two Jim's Family Restaurant franchises. The one that burned, he said, was his most successful.

"It was a West Jordan landmark," he said. "To see it now, this morning, that's when it really hit me."

The restaurant was in that building for about the past seven years, Tzakis said. But the building itself, which has housed several restaurants, has been there for more than 25 years, according to firefighters.

Not only is the sentimental value lost, but 35 employees are now out of work.

"That's my livelihood right there," said Jason Torres as he stood outside the restaurant staring at the hanging roof and blackened walls. "(The employees) were all close. We spent most of our time here rather than we actually did at home. I don't know with the economy the way it is, it's kind of hard to find a job."

Tzakis said he would do his best to try and relocate as many employees as he could to some of his other restaurants.

"I've had a fantastic crew. This has been my best crew ever, here," he said.

A total of 74 firefighters needed about an hour to extinguish the main part of the fire and another 90 minutes to put out any hot spots, Scharman said. Redwood Road between 7000 South to 7800 South was shut down for a few hours early Thursday.

The cause of the fire had not been determined Thursday morning. But Scharman said it did not appear to be suspicious. Surveillance video from inside the restaurant was being reviewed to see if it could provide any more clues into the fire's origin, he said. The fire did not start in the kitchen area.

Whether Tzakis rebuilds the restaurant will be determined mostly by the insurance company, he said while acknowledging the damage was severe.

"Inside, it's a sun room right now. There's no ceiling."

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