CHICAGO — A fire destroyed a longtime catering business on Chicago’s Southwest Side Friday.
The Chicago Fire Department was called to Georgis Catering, located at 6339 South Central Avenue, not far from Midway Airport, just before 12:30 a.m.
Heavy smoke and flames could be seen shooting through the roof in the early morning hours as firefighters worked to put out the fire.
“We got up, came outside and started looking around, and everything was just in smoke,” said Jacqueline Lopez-Cruz, who lives across the street. “We stood out here for a few minutes and just watched, praying for the firefighters that nobody would get hurt.”
At least four engines, two trucks, and a tower ladder responded to the scene. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries, according to CFD, and were taken to area hospitals.
The family-owned business, Georgis Catering, was started in 1946 and has been in the neighborhood since. Employees tell WGN the owner and staff have poured their heart into giving back to the community.
“I’m real sad. I worked for 33 years for this company,” said Jose Martinez, one of the managers at Georgis Catering.
Martinez said it was devastating to see the damage caused by the fire.
“I don’t know what happened. People called me from across the street; some lady working over here,” he said.
According to another manager, who spoke to WGN by phone, Georgis Catering helps provide about 2,000 meals each weekday, or about 10,000 a week, to seniors through its partner organizations in the surrounding suburban areas.
One of those organizations is the Meals on Wheels Foundation of Northern Illinois, which shared a statement Friday with WGN.
“We are devastated at the loss that our catering partner, George “Buz” Georgis at Georgis Catering has endured. For over a decade, Georgis Catering has provided nearly 10,000 meals per week to Cook County’s most vulnerable seniors. Buz is a kind soul who has always shown up for our clients, and Georgis Catering truly helped make a difference in our communities. Our programs serve almost 7,000 older adults and individuals with disabilities, and with Buz’s partnership we were on track to serve 700,000 meals in Cook County and nearly 1,000,000 meals program-wide this year,” said a spokesperson.
A spokesperson for Meals on Wheels Foundation of Northern Illinois said at their eight sites in Cook County, Brookfield, Berwyn, Hometown, South Chicago Heights, Phoenix, Lemont Township and at a standalone café in Dolton, clients will be unable to receive hot meals on Friday.
“We are searching for a new caterer and trying to connect with local restaurants as quickly as we can,” a spokesperson wrote.
Their programs in Will, Kendall, and Grundy counties will continue as usual.
“We have been in touch with Buz and we hope that the community can support him as he has supported them in the past. Community members who want to support the seniors in Cook County and make sure we can quickly return to providing hot meals can contribute their time or make a donation to the Meals on Wheels Foundation of Northern Illinois,” wrote a spokesperson for the nonprofit.
A manager for Georgis Catering told WGN the owner was already working to find a path forward so their team can continue to provide meals for those in need as well as the other obligations they also fulfill daily.
“He’s a nice person. For 33 years he cares about the employees,” said Martinez. “Everybody’s happy with the job, but we wait to see what he decides.”
The company provides meals for private planes departing airports in the area and surrounding states, including Midway Airport.
On Friday, the adjacent apartment building was also evacuated, according to officials, and warming buses were brought to the scene to help residents. It’s not clear the extent of the damage that the apartments sustained.
An adjacent business on the other side, Mom and Dad’s Deli, had damage to its door and window. The extent of the damage to the business is not known.
No civilian injuries were reported and the cause of the fire has not yet been shared by investigators.
Chicago Police Department officers, volunteers with the American Red Cross, and public works crews also responded to the scene to assist with putting salt on the icy road and sidewalks near the building.