Ernesto Martinez said it will likely be another two months before he can reopen Ernesto’s Mexican Bar & Grill. After a late-night fire caused heavy damage in June, Martinez said he felt relieved in seeing the progress made so far.
A new electrical system and drywall have replaced what was damaged, but there’s still a ways to go before the restaurant — located in Wesleyan Park Plaza — will be able to fully reopen.
“You have to follow the guidelines. The electrical codes change every time,” Martinez said. “The City inspector came over and said, ‘You have to do this, this, and this.’ When they finish the drywall and electrical, I just have to put up the rear wall and work on the floor.”
Last week, Martinez met with an insurance company to discuss the timing for reopening his restaurant, which had gained notoriety and support across town for its authentic Mexican cuisine.
While most of the repair work could be done by the end of August, Martinez said he was recently informed that it would be two months before a new air conditioning unit could be installed.
Martinez said he’s ready to get back to work. Ernesto’s first opened shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic forced restaurants to close, then the structure fire happened a few days after opening the doors again.
Martinez said he suffered some severe stress that put him in the hospital twice. Since then, he has taken some time to slow down and reassess the situation he’s been put in, all the while moving forward with appointments, business meetings and weekly check-ins at the restaurant.
An outpouring of support from the community has helped Martinez get through this difficult time too, he said.
“In August, I hope everything comes together. Then in September I can focus on all the details,” he said. “I try to be positive, but, believe me, I’ve had a little bit of a hard time with my health. It’s a lot of stress. And now everybody has filed for unemployment, and everything is crazy with this virus.”
Martinez put almost all his savings into opening Ernesto’s, which caused even more stress for him in having to close. But donations from loyal patrons and business partners in the amount of $20,000 have helped Martinez and his business stay afloat.
The fire was caused by a malfunction related to a cooler inside the building. It was something Martinez had never experienced in his years of working in the service industry. An inspector from Indianapolis told Martinez that similar issues would lead to a fire around 1% of the time.
“Each unit has a receptacle. Something happened to shut down that receptacle [that led to the fire],” he said.
Martinez said David Hocker & Associates played a huge role in helping him get back on his feet after the fire by helping him file his paperwork in getting insurance.
“If you helped me a lot, I appreciate that, but those guys didn’t say anything, like, ‘You have to pay me now.’ But business is business,” Martinez said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or not rich — you have to do something to pay them back.”