Rebuilding after the smoke clears
This week’s spotlight is taking a different angle. Instead of a basic profile, the MSR reached out to Louis J. King II, owner of Lola on the Lake, to find out how he plans to rebuild after a fire destroyed the historic pavilion housing the business on May 16.
Last week, the MSR reported the building had been declared unsalvageable and was scheduled for demolition this past Monday. Released footage shows that the pavilion, located along the north shore of Lake Bde Maka Ska, may have been subject to arson — or at minimum, an accidental fire.
Instead of pining over tragedy, however, King borrowed a food truck from a friend to keep the business going on the south shore of the lake over Memorial Day weekend. Here, he talks with the MSR about future plans and the power of community in rebuilding.
MSR: Can you tell us how the events unfolded surrounding the fire?
Louis King: Someone called me at 5:30 am and told me that the place was on fire. I told them that they were mistaken and should go back to bed. When I started Googling, I realized that it was us. I got in my car and drove down there. It was unreal seeing the smoke, the smell, the smoldering, the firemen and the press.
MSR: Was the fire arson? Do you have anything you want to say to the people on the video who potentially committed the crime against the Pavilion?
LK: [Investigators] have ruled out an act of God, so whether it’s accidental or intentional, it’s an act that will forever alter the lives of the people who did it and the people who depended on that pavilion for their livelihood. It was a public asset that was destroyed, so that makes it a reckless act whether it was accidental or intentional, and it will be a very powerful lesson on accountability.
MSR: What was the City’s and park board’s response, and how has that been for you?
LK: We have a contract with the park board. They’ve been really supportive — but trying to sort it out, too. They’ve lost a valuable asset that has been around since 1930; you don’t replace that overnight.
This first week was just sorting it out, just, “What happened here?” You gotta save the lake and don’t let pollution and contamination from the site go into the lake. You have a lot to consider. Then, it’s how do you keep food service on the lake for the people that come around here. Then you gotta think about the long term.
So, there are immediate, interim, and long-term solutions. Right now, they’re dealing with the immediate and interim. Sooner or later we will get to the long term.
MSR: What has the response of the community been since the fire?
LK: I’ve learned that I have some really great people around me that have been really supportive. They’ve gone above and beyond what I ever could have imagined in terms of supporting us.
The strangers who come up and express empathy and support is also overwhelming to me. I’m just a guy that wanted to figure out something to do after I retired from my day job. This isn’t my livelihood, but it is my future. In the short run, I’m just trying to get it right, and for people to express how they felt about it was really touching.
MSR: Is there one example in particular that touched you the most?
LK: There’s a woman I know who grew up here. She has pictures of herself and her mother when she was a little girl going to the pavilion. She talked about how she had a first date there and how great it was to read at Lola’s and listen to the music. She was looking forward to it this year. Now it’s gone and it made her really sad.
MSR: What keeps you going?
LK: In the end, it was workers, like the guy over there [pointing to a worker], Wyatt. He’s home from college and was asking about his summer job. I was concerned about the people that work for me. I’ve got Wyatt. I have a woman that has four kids and is a single mother. I’ve got guys that are piecing together two and three jobs, and now this could be gone just like that. I was committed to staying and trying to help them earn a living.
MSR: How can the community help support those workers?
LK: Hire them.
MSR: How can the community support you until you re-open?
LK: Keep coming out and buying tacos, pulled pork sandwiches, and Philly cheesesteaks.
MSR: How has turnout been this weekend for the food truck on the lake?
LK: It’s been okay, but I know the magic numbers here. Rain kills business. You need 70º with no overcast. It’s been 65º, breezy and grey. A lot of people decided to stay in.
MSR: What are your plans for rebuilding Lola’s? Do you plan to stay at the lake?
LK: We’re going to build out around the lake. We’re going to possibly acquire an ice cream truck. We’re going to put a trailer here. Whenever they get the site cleared, we’re going to do something there, and then we will be part of the rebuilding of the facility.
MSR: Is there anything else you wanted to add?
LK: This has been a true challenge for us, but we stuck together as a team and people have really supported us. I haven’t looked back one bit. I had my talk with God, and he showed me all the things that he was doing in my life, and so my faith is stronger than ever.
Lola on the Lake’s pop-up truck is currently located along the south side of the lake at Thomas Beach. Three percent of all proceeds will benefit rebuilding the pavilion. Lola’s will not be open when it rains. Visit facebook.com/lolaonthelake for open hours and location updates.