Sonny and Elda Paneda lost their business last week after a suspicious fire reduced their grocery store to a heap of charred debris.
But they are ready to move on. While the couple are working out the details with their insurance company, the Panedas are now looking for an available rental space to re-open their Aki’s Food to-go and Grocery. The store, which carried mainly Filipino and other Asian foods, was one of four businesses on North Main Street that was destroyed in the blaze which, according to initial estimates, could top $1.1 million in damages. The five-unit complex, located behind the Waffle Shop and Chubby’s Diner which are part of the commercial center next to Golden West Elementary School but were spared from the fire, was also home to the Rocko’s bar, the Clipper Hair Salon and a learning center. One unit was vacant.
Elda Paneda said they want to keep their business in Manteca.
“I still am going to stay around Manteca. I don’t want to go to Stockton, and Lathrop is too small and too slow (for business). It’s just a matter of finding a new place to start another (store),” said Paneda whose daughter, the younger of their two children, just graduated last month from Joshua Cowell Elementary School.
She said their insurance agent has been very helpful and promised to “fast track” the process to help them get back on their business feet as quickly as possible. The only thing that has been slowing them down is their inability to look inside the store so they can do a quick inventory, Paneda said.
But that decision is up to the property manager who has yet to give them the consent to enter the premises. And when he does, Paneda said she “would like to go with them inside because I know what we have and where everything is.”
Whether the Panedas would be able to find anything at all that was spared by the blaze is highly doubtful. The entire building complex was totally gutted by the inferno because all the business units had only one common attic which caused the fire to quickly spread resulting in the complete collapse of the ceiling. A Manteca Bulletin photograph taken inside the Clipper’s Salon next door to the grocery store showed a practically flattened room with the floor covered with charred debris. However, a hopeful Paneda said she had been informed that “Aki’s was the least damaged.”
She said she would like to re-open her business as soon as possible “because my customers have been calling.”
It was actually one of her customers, who happened to be driving by the store on her way home from her graveyard shift, who called the Panedas about the fire. The Panedas had closed the store for four days prior because they were hosting a Father’s Day family reunion at their home to commemorate the second anniversary of her father’s death. They were scheduled to re-open the store the morning of the fire which started about 4 a.m. Tuesday, June 21.
Besides their food inventory, lost in the blaze was the laptop computer that the Panedas used for “just the store.”
Paneda, though, is not just thinking of their plight after the fire tragedy. She is also reaching out to the owner of the Clipper’s Salon with whom she has been friends for years.
“She doesn’t know what to do,” she said of her friend who is from Cambodia and is a widow.
“We talked yesterday and I told her to call me if she needs anything,” Paneda said.