Fire claims family business

Firefighters battle the blaze at Ish and Chips in Uptown Waterloo. (Photo by Justin Smirlies).

Kamil Mytnik was in the middle of cashing out at a grocery store when he received a phone call he wished he never got. It was from an employee at his parents’ restaurant Ish and Chips in Uptown Waterloo.

She told him there was a fire.

“I just left everything as it was [at the cash] and I just ran out. It took me ten seconds to gather my thoughts and fully accept it. Because I didn’t believe it, I thought it was just a small fire in the corner of the restaurant,” explained Mytnik, who was taking care of his parents’ restaurant while his father was on vacation in Poland.

Mytnik rushed to the restaurant at 37 King Street North, just at the intersection of Dupont. He arrived to see his parents’ — John and Barbara Mytnik —  hard work burn up in flames. The building was barely visible under the wall of thick smoke that engulfed the street.

“When I got there I just saw smoke everywhere — the whole building up in smoke — and your heart sinks at that moment,” he shared.  “It sinks.”

At around 3:15 p.m. on Aug. 23, Waterloo Fire Rescue crews arrived at the scene of blaze that overtook Ish and Chips as well as a vacant variety store to the right of it. Above were two apartments.

Everyone escaped safely, but now the Mytnik family, their employees and the two tenants who occupied the top half of the building are left trying to figure out their future.

“It’s now in the hands of insurance and the property owner,” added Mytnik, noting that one of the tenants was a University of Waterloo student. “We’re living under a question mark with what’s going to happen.”

“As of last week, Red Cross was providing temporary accommodations for [the tenants],” said John Percy, public education officer at Waterloo Fire Rescue. “What the building owner will do now through their insurance companies is they’ll make arrangements.”

According to Percy, the estimated damage, as of last week, was over $500,000. The fire is still under investigation, but he gave no indication that it should be deemed suspicious. No cause has been determined either.

“The fire marshall did take some samples for extra analysis that will go down to the forensic sciences in Toronto,” he added.

What is known, however, is that the fire started somewhere in the back of the building between Ish and Chips and the vacant variety store next door. It then came up and over the building and finally hit the front where the restaurant was.

Mytnik also had to pick up his father and sister from the airport after a three-week vacation in Europe that day, having to be the first one to break the horrific news to his father. He said that both his parents put in one whole year’s worth of work into Ish and Chips, building the menu, decor and interior by hand.

It finally launched in July of 2010 after previously being known as MacDonell Village on University Avenue from 2000-2009, but a potential demolition scare forced the family to relocate uptown to where Ish and Chips was.

“As it was burning I picked up my dad from the airport and said, ‘strap yourself into the seat right now because I have some news for you,’” Mytnik continued. “They thought I was joking, and I said, ‘I’m not joking. It’s burning right now,’ as we were driving back to the restaurant, back to Kitchener.

“But we didn’t have restaurant at that point anymore. It was just up in smoke.”

While the building has since been demolished and beyond the point of repair, Mytnik is optimistic that Ish and Chips will one day rejoin the Waterloo community. His family loves this community, he said.

“We’ve babied it, it’s like a child almost. You build it, you start it up, and it finally starts to blossom. Of course we want to come back and continue on with that,” he said, noting Ish and Chips’ various community accolades and awards. The morning of the fire, the Waterloo Region Record told him that his parents’ restaurant was nominated for the “best fish and chips” category for 2012.

Although the 12 years of hard work that the Mytnik family has spent serving the community is now gone, the various businesses and friends that the family have made relationships with are chipping in so they get back on their feet.

“There has been a great outpouring from the community for us,” Mytnik said, adding that a fundraiser may be coming soon. “I would be incredibly grateful if that came through and helped out my parents.”

“I just want to see my parents happy, and have a job, and have a stable life and normal life,” he asserted.

However, the fire could have been a lot worse — both Mytnik and Percy know that.

“The fact that it happened in the day, no one was hurt, no one was killed, none of our firefighters were hurt,” Percy explained. “We were very fortunate it happened the way it did. I think the outcome would have been little bit different if it happened in the middle of the night, especially with people sleeping upstairs.”

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