LAKE STATION | The fire that destroyed a 30-year-old landmark in the Little Mexico neighborhood of Lake Station has left owners deeply saddened, a family member said.
"It was a big part of our lives. I'm devastated," Evelyn Rosario said.
Evelyn Rosario's mother, Alejita Rosario owned the store and Evelyn and her husband, Exio Rosario, have been operating it for the last five years.
"I'd love to rebuild but I'm not sure how that's possible since we had no insurance," Evelyn Rosario said.
The fire at J & A Foods, 4325 E. 27th Ave., was reported to the Lake Station Fire Department early Sunday, Fire Chief Robert Janes said.
"The building is a total loss and the cause of the fire remains under investigation," Janes said.
He declined to speculate whether or not the fire was set, something the family believes might have happened.
The fire started in the front section of the restaurant, near the check-out area, and quickly spread.
It took firefighters about four to five hours to put the fire completely out, Janes said.
"Its a terrible shame because the owners didn't have a dime's worth of insurance," Janes said.
The business was known as "the Little Puerto Rican store" and was originally owned by Alejita Rosario and her husband, Julio Rosario, who died last year.
The business, J & A Foods, was named after her two parents who came to the United States in the late 1950s settling initially in East Chicago.
Rosario said she worked at the combination convenience store/takeout restaurant Sunday night. She received a knock on her door at 4 a.m. by a neighbor giving her the news about the fire.
"I think the fire was set by someone because I know when I left that night, I made sure everything was shut off," Rosario said.
Rosario said she had a sizable customer base of people who would come to get a takeout order of her Puerto Rican style pork and rice dishes.
The store also stocked a number of specialty items from Puerto Rico, the West Indies and Jamaica.
Lillian Torres, a friend of the family, said Lake Station has lost one of its landmark stores.
Torres is hopeful the community will pull together and help the family rebuild the store.
"There has been some talk about holding some community fundraisers," Torres said.