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After the Java Monkey fire: Praise for firefighters, an act of kindness, and a search for answers

Crime and public safety Decatur Food Metro ATL

After the Java Monkey fire: Praise for firefighters, an act of kindness, and a search for answers

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The Java Monkey in Decatur before it was destroyed by a fire two years ago. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt


A Decatur institution went up in flames on Sunday night.

But the blaze brought out the best in the community, and now fire investigators are doing the important work of figuring out what started the fire at Java Monkey, a coffee shop that’s been a Decatur staple for over 25-years.

Fire Chief Toni Washington said the fire started in the attic. The fire broke out around 11 p.m. after closing. Washington confirmed that Decatur fire investigators are receiving assistance from DeKalb County Fire and Rescue and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

Officials have not confirmed whether they are looking into whether the fire was intentionally started. In a Facebook post Tuesday morning, Java Monkey implied that someone intentionally starting the fire is something on the investigators’ radar.

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“We would like to thank everyone for their kind words during this period and a special thank you to the people who have come forward with information which has been handed on to the police etc. and we will keep you up to date with the investigation as it progresses,” the post says.  “The police, fire and ATF are looking in to certain things at the moment and if this is confirmed we will release details through Decaturish.com. Right now, our main concern is getting our neighbors who had far less damage back up and running as quickly as possible while we look at how to rebuild Java Monkey.”

The fire damaged nearby businesses Tres Jolie, Noodle and Fresh to Order. The landlord for those businesses and Java Monkey, Joseph Ahlzadeh, told Decaturish that the buildings can likely be saved.

“We’re working very diligently with our insurance company to put things back together as soon as possible,” Ahlzadeh said. “We know it’s the livelihood of our tenants and their employees who depend on those jobs.”

He added, “We want to try to do things right, build it better and more beautiful than before.”

Java Monkey and Noodle sustained the most damage. It will be weeks before they can reopen.

Fresh to Order plans to reopen as soon as possible.

“We are not certain [of the date] yet,” Director of Operations Jason Rollins said. “We have an insurance inspection … and already have people working on the smoke damage. It looks to be at least one week as of right now, but, it could take us all the way through Thanksgiving depending on what we come across as we dive into this.”

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Raj Mehta, owner of Tres Jolie — which shares a roof with Java Monkey — said she is not sure when she will be back in business.

“We are completely shut down and we have a lot of water damage,” she said. “We still have puddles of water they’ve been trying to clean up from yesterday.”

The store currently doesn’t have any power. Mehta is contemplating a “fire damage” sale of Tres Jolie’s inventory. She noted that she also owns another store in Decatur, Boutique Karma, located at 145 Sycamore Street. Mehta said the company may stock some extra inventory there to make up for the missed holiday sales at Tres Jolie.

Decatur Assistant City Manager Lyn Menne, who oversees economic development, said the city and business community are contemplating ways to help the affected businesses get through the all-important holiday season.

“As of right now, there is a restoration company on site and our building department is supporting efforts to get inspections completed in the hopes of getting power restored,” Menne said.  “Once owners have the chance to wrap their head around the damage, get updates from the restoration company and communicate with the landlord and their various insurance companies, we will have a better sense of what we can do. We will keep you and your readers posted as details materialize. In the past, when we have had similar fires, the Beer Festival committee has contributed to help offset insurance deductibles and I feel certain they will do so this time around.”

The coffee shop was also a community cultural hub.

Java Monkey also hosted a popular open mic night, Java Monkey Speaks. every Sunday. This Sunday, Nov. 18, the event will be relocated to 7 Stages at 1105 Euclid Ave NE in Atlanta. Sign up begins at 7:30 p.m. and the open mic starts at 8 p.m. To see the event listing, click here.

While the fire was devastating for local businesses, it could’ve easily been worse. Towne Square Condominium, located behind Java Monkey, has 105 homeowners and residents had to be evacuated. They waited until the wee hours of the morning to go back into their homes.

The board of the condominium association reported some damage to their building as a result of the fire.

“Our understanding is that the fire alarm in our building was activated as a precautionary measure because of the proximity to the fire,” the condominium board said in an email. “Many residents did leave the building when the alarm sounded and remained outside until the City of Decatur Fire and Rescue felt it was safe to deactivate the alarm. Because of the cool temperatures, several residents waited in the club room for the all clear. Damage to Towne Square Condominium appears to be limited to common areas including windows and the exterior wall nearest the fire. No individual condominiums suffered any damage. Several residents reported having to sleep late into the morning or take naps this afternoon.”

Java Monkey and its landlord, Ahlzadeh, praised firefighters for stopping the fire in its tracks. Firefighters had to cut a trench in the roof to keep the fire to spreading to the other buildings.

“I love Decatur. I want you to know that we are extremely thankful to the Fire Department,” Ahlzadeh said. “It’s a tough, dangerous job. We’re grateful to them for their fast work.”

While the residents of Towne Square waited, local restaurant Leon’s Full Service stepped in, providing them with coffee and tea. The residents said they wanted to publicly thank Leon’s for the good deed.

Ryan Gallagher, a business partner at Leon’s, credited his staff for stepping in when they were needed.

“We are extremely proud of our bar manager Adam Rowe and other staff members who helped bring some relief to the evacuees during the fire,” he said. “It truly shows the community spirit we have here in Decatur.”

Menne agreed, calling the staff at Leon’s “angels.”

“They showed by example what community looks like,” she said.

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