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Forgotten victims of the Greerton fires

Paul and Somjit Mahem have owned Ruk Thai for the past eight years. Their son Art Mahem says life hasn’t been easy since the fires gutted their restaurant. Photo: John Borren.

The Greerton community is rallying around devastated business owners after a fire left their respective restaurants in ruins.

Family owned restaurants Ruk Thai and Curry Planet were forced to close their doors in Janurary. 

Neighbouring business Bladed N Faded Barber Shop on Chadwick Road was the target of two separate fires on December 31 and January 27. The second fire destroyed the shop and the neighbouring businesses.

Now, community members are eager to help the restaurants owners find their feet and reopen as soon as possible. A Givealittle page has been created in response.

Curry Planet owner Sanjay Dogra says words can’t describe how the fires have impacted his family’s life.

“We were operating a good family business, we had lots of our regular customers that were happy with our food and our service.

“It’s very hard to find the right words for how it is for us now, we have lost everything.”

Sanjay and his wife Sonia took over from the previous restaurant owners in May last year.

He says before the fires, the family had sufficient savings and a well-planned future. “Now it feels like we have gone back three years.”

Sonia has always worked night shifts as a packer at Service Foods, but she says the restaurant was their first source of income.

“If you have a good business you can buy everything – your daily needs, pay your rent – but I can’t see that for us now.”

Sanjay has been searching for a job since the restaurant closed but hasn’t had much luck. He does have income insurance.

“Since the fire, I am trying to find a job but I can’t. I don’t know what to do - I can’t just stay home.”

Paul and Somjit Mahem had been serving up Thai cuisine from their Greerton restaurant for the past eight years.

Their 31-year-old son Art Mahem says the fire has taken a huge financial and emotional toll on the family. They have no income insurance.

The thick smoke that smothered the insides of the buildings damaged thousands of dollars’ worth of goods, says Art.

“Every single food item in the chiller was covered in smoke. It was nearly $5000 worth of supply and we had to throw it all in the bin.

“The smoke damage covers everything – it gets in every glass, plate and bowl. We have spent the last few weeks taking everything out of the building and cleaning it to see if it can still be used.”

Art says the fire has hit his parents the hardest, as they were planning to retire within the next ten years.

“In nine more years, they are going to be retired. Now if we have to start from zero again, that’s going to hit them quite hard.

“We had eight years without any problem, and now everything is just gone.”

Paying bills, relocating the restaurant and finding a new job are just some of the things Art is currently trying to juggle. “Everything is just so hard at the moment – I don’t know where to start.”

Building landlord Del Roberts says the fire-damaged restaurants will need to be rebuilt from the ground up.

This could take between 6-8 months to get started, but he says there’s a high chance it could be even longer.

Life has been tough for Sanjay and Sonia Dogra since multiple fires forced them to shut up shop at their family owned Greerton restaurant Curry Planet. 

“Unfortunately these wonderful people have lost their livelihood – I feel awful about that,” he says.

“They will have to relocate.”

Sanjay and Art are searching for locations in the Greerton community to reopen their restaurants.

But both men are feeling the pressure, saying right now it seems near impossible to find a suitable premises.

“We are trying to find another location on Chadwick Road, but we are stuck. We cannot find anything,” Sanjay says. “We don’t want to move from here – we love this location.”

Art is eager to also remain within Greerton. However, he says in an ideal world they wouldn’t be leaving 200 Chadwick Road.

“If this didn’t happen we would be here another 15 years.”

He estimates that opening a new restaurant will cost the family more than $100,000.

“It’s going to be a long process and cost us a lot of money. Our customers have been telling us we need to keep the business in Greerton because they love our food and don’t want to go anywhere else,” he laughs.

The Givealittle page was initiated by Greerton business’ Crockford Real Estate and Greerton Lotto Shop.

“Greerton Village is at a loss without these authentic and popular restaurants. Any donations no matter how big or small will be a huge blessing,” the page states.

As of Thursday morning, the Givealittle had already racked up more than $1000 in donations.

Sanjay says he couldn’t be more appreciative of the outpouring of support.

“People are nice over here. Thanks so much to the great people in Greerton and Tauranga.”

To donate to the cause, visit the Givealittle. 

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get rid

Posted on 06-03-2020 19:35 | By

the minister of police and the prime minister should have the guts to go in and and do something about these gangs go in and strip them of there assets money cars motor bikes and pay to have these businesses put back together.

WRONG

Posted on 06-03-2020 13:36 | By

Yet we’re told this warfare is only between gangs. Here is a prime example of innocent ’bystanders’ being caught up in these terrorists actions. Families livelihoods stripped from them because these thugs don’t give a care in the world. I don’t see them donating to ’Givealittle’. Their proceeds of crime should be taken and put into rebuilding this landlords shops and these people’s business. It’s certainly not just between gangs. It traumatizingly affects everyone in the community.