Kitchen Fire Closes JJ’s in Sister Bay

One of Door County‘s most popular restaurants is closed today after a fire charred the kitchen of JJ‘s La Puerta in Sister Bay at 6:55 am.

A fire gutted the kitchen at JJ’s La Puerta Friday morning.

“The smoke alarm went off and I woke up to black smoke coming up through the floor,” said John Young, a JJ’s employee who lives in an apartment above the restaurant. “It was thick, black smoke so bad I didn’t even have a chance to grab my cell phone.”

Young and four other employees who were also sleeping above the restaurant estimated that the fire started at  6:55 am. Firefighters from several Door County departments began arriving about 20 minutes later, Young said.

James “JJ” Johnson examines the damage to the restaurant he opened in 1978 through a kitchen window.

“We tried to find a hose and grab buckets of water from the bay but it was useless,” Young said.

James “JJ” Johnson, the restaurant’s owner and namesake, watched firefighters cut into the restaurant he opened in 1978 with chainsaws and talked about moving on.

Johnson opened a second location in Jacksonport last week, and expected to be working there tonight. “We’ll be cooking tonight.”

Johnson’s wife Kris said there was no ansul system in the restaurant’s kitchen. She and her husband were alerted to the fire when their carpenter called them at about 7 am, asking “Do you guys know your restaurant is on fire?”

The restaurant is located in a century-old building on the north end of Sister Bay in the Town of Liberty Grove. At 8 am, a crowd of employees, passersby, and tourists staying on boats in the Yachtworks Marina were gathered on the shore behind the restaurant, watching firefighters chop away at one of their favorite watering holes. Though the building didn’t show excessive damage outside, a look in the rear window revealed a blackened kitchen.

Firefighters contained the blaze and neighboring establishments were not damaged, including Yachtworks to the north and The Waterfront to the south, which will be open for business as usual tonight.

Employees, friends, and boaters watch as firefighters examine the scene.

Kris Johnson said the timing couldn’t be worse in a tourist destination where peak season business is invaluable.

“I was just telling a customer yesterday that this is it,” she said. “If a business owner up here needs one week a year, this is the week.”

Two hours after the fire, Kris Johnson was relieved nobody was hurt, and kept her spirits up by making jokes, but she knew that wouldn’t last.

“I’m joking now, but I’ll cry when I get inside,” she said.

James Johnson was already figuring out how to re-open, and pointed to the roof, where one customer seemed unfazed by the damage.

“The seagulls still like it,” he said, and laughed.