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Fire destroys restaurant set to open soon on Chicago's North Side

Fire is latest challenge for owners of Chicago's Lunchbox restaurant
Fire is latest challenge for owners of Chicago's Lunchbox restaurant 02:12

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A late-night fire destroyed a brand-new restaurant that had been just about all ready to open in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood.

Chicago food truck owner John Nguyen had just needed to pass a health inspection for his new restaurant, Lunchbox, at 1535 W. Devon Ave. The inspection had been scheduled for Thursday morning.

Lunchbox Chicago

But now, instead of preparing for a grand opening, Nguyen is preparing insurance paperwork – after a fire ripped through his brick-and-mortar location right on the boundary of Edgewater and Rogers Park Wednesday night.

Lunchbox Chicago

Nguyen said he wanted to double-check a few things before that very important inspection that was supposed to happen on Thursday. He arrived around 9 p.m.

"Opened the back door and a cloud of black smoke came flying at my face," he said. "I can't even imagine what would've happened if we didn't come. Who knows? It could've been burnt down to the ground."

Nguyen himself was the one who called 911.

Chicago fire investigators have not said what ignited, but did determine the fire was accidental. No one was injured.

Fire breaks out inside restaurant set to open soon on Chicago's North Side 01:27

Lunchbox started with a food truck 10 years ago. John Nguyen and his wife, Tanya, scraped by when the COVID-19 pandemic hit – and then purchased the Devon Avenue storefront.

"This was going to be our hub for the food trucks – our home," said John Nguyen, "our prep and our storefront as well."

The Nguyens transformed their new location piece by piece. John installed things like the tile on the wall himself.

The fire destroyed all that work.

Lunchbox Chicago

"I'm disappointed and sad. I know it can be rebuilt, but my time that I put in – I can't buy that back," said John Nguyen. "A lot of time."

John and Tanya Nguyen returned Thursday afternoon to survey the damage – which includes a large hole in the roof, puddles of water, and smoke-stained walls.

They are not sure how long it will take to recover, but giving up is not an option.

"People have been anticipating the grand opening, so I would say, please be patient. It will happen!" said Tanya Nguyen. "We're going to make it bigger and better than we even planned, so yeah, we'll get there."

Fire tears through Chicago restaurant before grand opening 02:02

The owner said that the destruction is hard to stomach, in particular because John Nguyen spent a lot of time and effort renovating the storefront himself. Those tiles on the wall alone took him a whole month to install.

But with the Nguyens' sadness comes a lot of grit. They also lease space in the Loop – which survived the pandemic, and an incident when looters busted the windows and stole the cash register.

"It's just been a lot of challenges we've had to overcome, but as business owners, I feel like that's just part of the story; part of the journey of it all," said Tanya Nguyen.

The Nguyens will continue operating their food truck while they rebuild. So far, the family has raised over $4,000 after starting a GoFundMe to help with the cost. They expect the rebuild to take at least a year. 

In January 2022, a car crashed into the same building on Devon Avenue and reputed a gas main. Back then, the building housed Conn's Catering,

Owners of Edgewater restaurant rebuilding after accidental fire 00:25
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