Tio Lucho’s, a Peruvian restaurant in Atlanta’s Poncey-Highland neighborhood, is typically closed on Mondays, but this week it hosted a party.
With the doors thrown open and a DJ playing Latin hits on the sidewalk, several area chefs gathered on their day off to help raise money for the victims of the North High Ridge fire. About two weeks earlier, the old apartment building on North Avenue was decimated by an unforgiving blaze, displacing at least 28 residents.
But Monday evening’s mood was celebratory — a moment of community togetherness that served as a bright spot on what is likely a long and arduous road to recovery for this tight-knit group of tenants.
At the joyful center of the hastily organized event was Hank Nare, a former restaurant worker whose sister Emma was one of the North High Ridge residents. Hank, who now lives in Ohio and works in logistics, made a special trip back to Atlanta to help his sister and her neighbors.
His concept for the “Party on the Patio” was simple: Feed people, ask for donations and give the money to the fire victims. All he needed was a free event space, free labor and free food.
“I called in every favor I could think of,” Hank told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution during Monday’s event.
Hank’s first call was to his former colleague Arnaldo Castillo, the chef and owner of Tio Lucho’s. Castillo proposed a traditional Peruvian Pollado, a potluck-style dinner with marinated grilled chicken as its centerpiece. Free event space: check.
To round out dinner, the pair called on their friends in the service industry, including well-known Atlanta chefs like Andre Gomez, the former owner of Porch Light Latin Kitchen, and Joey Ward from the neighboring Georgia Boy and Southern Belle. Bartending services were provided by the team behind the 9 Rabbits food truck. Free labor: check.
According to Hank, the food, soft drinks and even alcohol were donated by the participating restaurants and their vendors. That included the heaps of chicken grilled on two Big Green Eggs right on the patio, plus frijoles, glazed plantains and ensalada de elote. Ward prepared the dessert, a panna cotta made with aji amarillo, or Peruvian yellow peppers, and a tart satsuma marmalade. Free food: check.
All that remained was for the community to show up for dinner. Although the fire took place more than two weeks ago, many of the former residents of North High Ridge are just setting out on their paths to recovery.
Emma Nare considers herself one of the lucky ones. When her building went up in flames, she was able to grab her purse and her pug, Biscuit, and escape unharmed.
The fire was particularly devastating because the old building, constructed in the 1920s, was a total loss. The fact that Emma left her apartment wearing shoes and carrying her wallet and cellphone put her in a better position than some of her neighbors. She is also one of just a handful of tenants who had renter’s insurance.
Some of Emma’s neighbors left behind essentials like cellphones, driver’s licenses and credit cards, she said. Several residents lost pet cats.
Just days later, the wreckage had been bulldozed, Emma said, even though some tenants had not been given an opportunity to recover anything.
Many of the 28 former residents would be nearly destitute if not for charitable organizations like the American Red Cross and events like the one organized by Hank. Monday’s fiesta at Tio Lucho’s turned out to be a huge success, raising more than $4,000. That money will be donated to a collective GoFundMe page set up to benefit all of the displaced residents.
It was hard not to feel optimistic at Monday’s party. As the restaurant filled up and diners raved about the tender, smoky Peruvian chicken, Hank continued to spread the word, literally pulling people out of traffic on North Highland Avenue to come in for dinner. It was difficult to tell if they were more attracted to the aroma or the pulsing music and warm, convivial atmosphere.
Many North High Ridge residents lost literally everything, but their community has offered steadfast support and made Monday’s event feel like a healing moment. That was something worth celebrating.