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I Love You, Olive You: Restaurant hit by arson is on the rebound

By Steven Byeon, University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory

Timur Leno has been waiting five months to get his life back.

“I feel so obligated to get this thing going not only for myself…but for the community to be built here,” he said. “It’s just not me, it’s all of us and we are a critical part of Greenwood.”

On Nov. 9, 2009, Leno lost his restaurant, Olive You at 8516 Greenwood Ave. N., to arson. The fire was started behind the restaurant, causing an estimated $20,000 in damages. Damage was minimized by early detection from a fire patrol.

After the blaze Leno expected his restaurant to be closed for no more than 10 days. But, an insurance inspection found significant smoke damage. The restaurant was stripped of everything inside and spray sealed.

The removal of all furniture and kitchen equipment has left Leno to rebuild his restaurant almost entirely. Dealing with the insurance company for five months has left Leno feeling “lost in the process.”

“It is not easy, we just need to get this thing going…to get this place open very soon,” Leno said.

Since the arson, Leno and his loyal customers have been waiting. Leno receives calls almost every day from customers giving encouraging words and asking when the restaurant will reopen. He created an Olive You Facebook page, which has gathered over 250 fans. He uses the social media network to stay in touch with his customers.

Laura Vess, an Olive You customer of four years, said through an e-mail: “Seriously, you can’t have the food from Olive You without developing serious cravings for it. We’re terribly impatient for them to open again and plan to be among their first customers!” She added that she and her partner, Chris Witwer, “miss our Friday night lamb chops!”

Community support has helped Leno during the closing of Olive You. Leno was one of 11 business owners who received assistance from the Greenwood Fire Relief Fund after last year’s arson spree.

Steve Giliberto, president of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce and member of the Greenwood Fire Relief Fund Board, said, “The community was clearly intent on showing their support not only of the businesses (but also) support of the neighborhood. The message goes forth that it’s a tight-knit community that isn’t just going to sit by and let people be hurt.”

Leno added, “It was symbolic. It reinforces your trust that you have friends out there. It’s not just the amount of it, but the gesture of it is just really significant.”

Leno also owns the 85th Street Café and Deli, which is less than a block away from Olive You at the corner of North 85th Street and Greenwood Avenue North. The deli serves Slum City Hot Dogs, which received the name from the movie “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Timur Leno, owner of Olive You, at his second restaurant, 85th Street Café and Deli, just a half block away.

Even with a second business Leno has felt the effects of losing Olive You, which was his primary source of income. Once the insurance process is complete Leno must rewire, paint and reinstall equipment and furniture in the restaurant. He hopes to reopen Olive You by mid-May.

“Of course I miss it, that’s my hangout, that’s my friends,” Leno said. “The people who work for me are my family. The people that come there are my family.”

(Steven Byeon is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.)

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