BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Gigi’s restaurant, a soul food staple of the East Side since 1960, suffered major damage by an early morning fire Saturday, and the longtime owner is undecided about rebuilding.
But many long standing Gigi’s customers are already chipping in to help bring it back, and after the restaurant survived recessions, racial strife, and killer Buffalo snowstorms, they are digging deep into their pockets to keep the landmark going.
Owner Blondine Harvin bought the restaurant in 1960, when it was located on Jefferson Avenue, then moved Gigi’s just around the corner, in 1976, to its present location at 257 E. Ferry St.
After seeing the windows and doors boarded up, and the pungent odor of a burnt ashes where the sweet smell of soul food would be filling the air, Harvin–known to many as “Miss Gigi”–was left practically speechless at the sight of her life’s work having gone up in smoke, when asked if she plans to rebuild.
“Right now, I don’t know. I have to wait and see. I am thinking I want to,” while she conceded the extensive damage will make raising the eatery up from the ashes a very heavy lift.
But the community is not waiting. Rev. Darius Pridgen, president of the Common Council, and as pastor of True Bethel Baptist.. rolled his food truck, the “Bread of Heaven” right up to the charred remains of the iconic restaurant.
“GiGi’s is more than a restaurant to those of us who are gathered here, and those in the city of Buffalo.”
Pridgen started taking up a collection for Gigi’s right on the scene, and said he asked Harvin what she needs the most, “Her words to me was ‘I need everything’, and then she talked about her employees.”
Pridgen plans to help the 12 workers at Gigi’s now without a job, and has started an online collection at GoFundMe.com to help those workers—such as Bobby Perry who has been a cook there for 33 years.
“I’m feeling terrible. I’m shocked, devastated, and out of a job, of course.”
Pridgen is taking the food truck back to Gigi’s next week and pledged to turn over all the proceeds raised by the truck Monday through Wednesday, to the restaurant and the workers.
“To make sure that those who need this place are fed, and then donations will be accepted–but those items will not be sold–and 100% of what is received in this truck, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, will be going back to Miss Gigi.”
Rev. Pridgen set a goal of raising $12,000 in 30 days to help Gigi’s and her workers get back on their feet, but folks had already started opening up their checkbooks before his GoFundMe.com page even got off the ground.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, and officials estimate damage to the building and contents will surpass $150,000.