Nearly two years after a raging fire in the Campus Court Plaza on University Avenue destroyed student-frequented eatery Mel’s Diner, along with several other businesses, owner Jerry Smith is preparing to open a new location in Kitchener.
“So it’ll be exactly the same feel and vibe and menu and people and atmosphere, but it’s at the corner of Ottawa and Westmount in Kitchener,” Smith outlined.
Although the location may be out of reach for many who frequented the Waterloo location, students can take solace in knowing that Smith has plans to rebuild at the University Plaza location as soon as possible.
Legal issues in addition to insurance complications have delayed the reconstruction of the plaza. Dates remain unknown for when building will begin.
“It’s amazing that two years, almost two years has gone by, and they still have it sitting there because of some insurance problems that they’re having,” Smith commented with clear frustration. “So we can’t build that [location] obviously until they give us the building … but that’s our intention, to rebuild there as well.”
The fire, which occurred in April 2010, was designated as an arson, and four people have been held responsible. The blaze began in Tabu Nightclub when Daniel Campbell and William Schneider, who have since been sentenced, tossed Molotov cocktails through the window. It quickly spread, and Mel’s Diner, along with Sugar Mountain and University Vision Centre, were razed to ground.
Campbell and Scheider were hired by former Titanium Nightclub owner Brent Campbell to destroy the rival business in order to clear a $19,000 debt which Daniel Campbell had accumulated as a result of a cocaine addiction. The fire was allegedly not intended to spread beyond Tabu.
Campbell has been charged with arson and conspiracy to commit arson, and was released on $100,000 bail last June. Lyntje Zinger, who drove the men to and from the scene of the crime, was given a conditional sentence.
The fire resulted in a devastating $4.5 million in damages. Expressing regret for the circumstances which have occurred, Smith said, “I knew Brent Campbell. Not very well, but I knew him, and it’s just a waste of a life for him to be sitting in jail, and it’s a waste of the last two years of my life.”
Although rumours abounded initially as people speculated the cause of the fire, he believed it was clear at the time that Mel’s could not be implicated.
“I never concerned myself with rumours or credibility issues about it,” Smith clarified.
However, feedback from the community after releasing news of rebuilding has very positive, he acknowledged.
As he waited for the opportunity to re-open Mel’s, Smith teamed with owner of Uptown Waterloo’s Ethel’s Lounge Glen Smith to open the popular Frat Burger across the street from Wilfrid Laurier University.
While students have taken to Frat Burger, which is similar to Mel’s, Smith, admit’s not meant to be the same, many are excited at the return of the familiar eatery.
“Mel’s Diner was affordable for students, and they had really good food,” said Mabel Wong, a third-year global studies student at Laurier. “I really enjoyed the atmosphere of going there as well.”
Although Wong only visited the establishment a handful of times, she regrets not taking the opportunity to go more often while it was there.
“It was unique to the area and it kind of gave a cool university feel to the plaza,” added fourth-year Laurier student Hanna Johnston.
“It was just a great place to hang out.”
The Mel’s Diner location in Kitchener is set to open Apr. 1, 2012.