March 25 was Palm Sunday and things were as busy as expected from the moment Andrea’s Restaurant opened at 6 a.m. until Maria Philippou, the manager, locked up at 9 p.m. and drove home, ready to do it all again the next morning.

 Less than an hour later, Philippou’s phone was blowing up. The restaurant was on fire. She ran out the door and, driving fast with her hazard lights flashing, arrived to find Andrea’s a smoking wreck.

“It’s like your home going up in flames,” said Philippou, adding she spends so much of her time at the restaurant that the GPS on her phone assumes Andrea’s is where she lives. “To see it in shambles …”

Investigators are still tying up the loose ends, said Philippou in a phone interview with the Forest Park Review two days after the blaze. But work to reclaim the restaurant, 7427 Roosevelt Road, has already started. Interior demolition – the entire restaurant will be rebuilt anew – has already started.

In an interview the day after the blaze, Fire Chief Bob McDermott said the fire, which started in the kitchen area and burned through the roof at the back of building, was not suspicious in nature.

Forest Park officials estimated it will take months, perhaps as long as a year, before the restaurant reopens. Philippou is much more optimistic.

“The whole place is going to be brand new,” she said. “Everything should be done by June.”

However long it is until Andrea’s reopens its doors to customers, the fire has temporarily sidelined its 10 employees, some of whom have been working for Maria’s father, Charlie Philippou, since he bought his first restaurant, Cosmos, on Roosevelt Road in 1981.

Some of the employees will use the hiatus to take a vacation, some will find other jobs while some will take advantage of unemployment insurance. Maria said she has temporarily taken a job at another restaurant while the Forest Park rebuild takes place.

“We’re all coming back,” Philippou said of the restaurant’s employees. “We’re all like a little family there.”

Maria said her father wanted his customers and Forest Park’s firefighters to know how much he appreciated their support.

“He wants to thank all the customers, the mayor, the first responders, firefighters, officers, everyone who helped,” she said. “He is grateful to be surrounded by such good people.”

It’s the second time Charlie Philippou has faced a fire at one of his restaurants. He was celebrating the baptism of his two children in his native Cyprus when a fire roared through Cosmos, which was located just down the street at 7343 Roosevelt Road.

He bought Andrea’s a short time later, keeping the name of the existing eatery. Maria says she essentially grew up there, remembering sitting behind the counter at the age of 6, handing customers change.

Like other businesses along Roosevelt Road, which was under construction for the better part of a year, Andrea’s struggled some in 2017. But, according to Maria, Charlie was upbeat with construction wrapping up and business starting to ramp back up.

In addition, Charlie, who will turn 64 later this month, was looking forward to retiring, said Maria.

“He was about to retire in a year,” said Maria. “Now he’s opening a new restaurant.”

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