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Its back to business for 2 victims of $1.1M fire
Chan Nong lost everything when the June 2011 $1.1M fire gutted the building that included Rockos bar and Akis Food to Go Grocery. She is now working at C T Hair Styling in the West Cardoza shopping center on West Louise Avenue. The commercial complex, which was never rebuilt, was located behind the Chubbys Diner and Waffle Shop on North Main Street. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Fire destroyed their businesses and livelihood. But it didn’t crush their spirit.

A little more than a year after the June 2011 fire that destroyed four businesses in the strip mall just south of Golden West Elementary on North Main Street, two of the victims are rising from the ashes.

Aki’s Food to Go and Grocery which occupied the east end of the building complex is getting ready to reopen in the former La Altena Mercado located in the small neighborhood mall on the 300 block of North Main Street. Aki’s owner Elda Paneda said she hopes to reopen by Nov. 1 when the building renovation is completed.

“I went through a lot but I want to do it again,” Paneda said about her decision to pick up the pieces after she lost her store at the worst possible economic times.

For months after the fire and finding herself suddenly unemployed, she went around looking for a job but with no luck, said the mother of three, the youngest of whom is a sophomore at Lathrop High School.  Her job search ending in one dead end after another, she finally decided to take the bull by the horns once again and start her business anew. She also kept the Aki’s name which was already familiar to her old customers, she said.

Paneda was not the only one who managed to rebuild from the ashes of the fire that topped $1.1 million in losses. Chan Nong who operated the Clipper Hair Salon next to the grocery store clawed her way back on both feet weeks after the fire incinerated everything inside her business. She is now working at C T Hair Styling in the Cardoza West shopping center on West Louise Avenue in Manteca where she keeps busy with her old and new customers. C T Hair Styling is owned by friends Montha and Sonny Tan who also found a new home in America after surviving the communist Khmer Rouge regime in their native Cambodia.

The three-alarm fire which occurred in the wee hours of the morning before any of the business in the small neighborhood shopping mall opened also destroyed Rocko’s bar and a learning center. The other units in the building complex were vacant at the time. Las Palmas Mexican Restaurant used to be located at the west end of the building, but had moved years before to the former Low’s shopping center on the corner of North Main and Alameda streets.

The building is located in the rear of the strip mall which is also home to Chubby’s Diner and Waffle Shop, both of which are situated in front along North Main Street. Both businesses were not affected by the fire.

Mutual aid came from Ripon, Tracy, Sharpe Depot and the Lathrop-Manteca fire districts to fight the blaze which was believed to have originated in a pair of dumpsters behind the building. One firefighter was transported by Manteca District Ambulance to the hospital due to heat exhaustion. A total of 39 firefighters, along with 33 regular and six reserves were at the scene of the fire.