Andy's Deli Fire a Blow to Chicago's Polish Community

Weather hampered firefighters' efforts

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Cause of fire to treasure of Chicago's Polish community currently unknown. (Published Thursday, Feb 10, 2011)

    There's sadness in Chicago's Polish community over a fire that tore through Andy's Deli in the Jefferson Park neighborhood on Wednesday night.

    "This is the best deli store -- polish deli.  It's not only that the Polish people come here," said Izabella Wozniak, who wasn't aware that the store, at  5442 N. Milwaukee Ave., was closed due to fire when she pulled up Thursday morning.  "Very pleasant people work there.  Great food.  Great people.  Everything about the store is great.

    She called the fire "a Polish tragedy in Chicago."

    The store's general manager, Jacek Zak, said he received a call from custodial workers at around 9:30 p.m. reporting smoke and the smell of burning plastic.  He urged his employees to get out and called the fire department.  

    More than 100 firefighters fought what they called a "difficult" fire.

    "The whole thing just went up in a blaze," said  Zak.  "It's like a family to me.  To experience this is devastating."

    Weather hampered the firefighting efforts. Fire hydrants became frozen due to the below-zero temperatures. The fire department called in water department workers to help get hydrants working.

    According to the store's website, the company was established in 1918 and claims to be the largest producer of authentic Polish sausages in the Chicago area.

    "This is a very huge blow to both the sales and the community," said Zak, who said that the building not only housed the grocery store and deli, but the production of a wholesale business supplying products to roughly 200 customers.

    "Everybody's asking, 'What's next? What's next?  Are we going to go back to work? What's next?' and I can't really answer that.  I'm still waiting for word from the insurance," said Zak.

    He said the company was fully insured and expects to reopen.

    "We're going to open soon.  We're not going to give up.  We're going to fix it up.  We're going to make it better, and we're going to open as soon as possible," he said.

    Investigators continue to search for the cause of the fire.