Fluke saves Gray Whale from fire

It was 1 a.m. when Tom Averna got the call. Months of hard work were going up in smoke — his brand new restaurant was on fire. But fate, and quick work by engine company 71, saved the day.

By sheer coincidence, firefighters were on an emergency call in the area. They had just responded to a suicide call and were preparing to leave that location when they noticed smoke pouring from the Gray Whale. Without missing a beat, they broke in and tackled the smoke and flames that were touched off hours earlier by a faulty wire. “We had closed for the night,” Averna recalled. “No one would have been there until the next day.”

After receiving the early morning call from Westec Security, Averna ran back to work fearing the worst. “By the time I got down there, they had it licked,” he noted in amazement. It was a close call. “They told me that by 8 in the morning, the building would have been gone.”

When Monroe’s went out of business earlier this year, Averna secured the lease. He spent weeks remodeling, sprucing up, painting and upgrading. The longtime Monroe’s waiter now had a place to call his own and had opened his doors just three weeks ago. “We had everything — great food, great service and we were getting a really good response. People were coming in even though we still have to wait for our liquor license.”

Had it not been for a strange turn of events and firefighters’ keen eyes, the days of the Gray Whale might have been over almost before they began. “Who’s out there at that time of night?,” asked Averna. “There’s no one on the beach except lovers, and they’re making their own smoke, they’re not going to see ours.”

As he airs out the kitchen and mops up the floors, Averna spends a lot of time thinking about engine company 71. “It was a total fluke, but those firefighters saved our butts.” After a few days of closure and cleaning, Averna expects to be back in business by the weekend.

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Having to wait for that liquor license doesn’t seem so bad after all.

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