Five months ago, a popular downtown Decatur coffee shop was torched to the point flames were coming out of the front door — an act of suspected arson allegedly committed by a disgruntled former employee.
Java Monkey, half of which had to be torn down, hopes to start making repairs soon and eventually reopen with a revamped interior. Owner David Stickland said he is thankful, however, that the arson suspect was arrested last week after being wanted for months.
Rickey Hodges Thomas, a 28-year-old Atlanta man, was arrested in East Point on April 1. He was taken to the DeKalb County jail and charged with arson, court records show.
The blaze on Nov. 11 tore through Java Monkey and also damaged several nearby businesses that share walls with Java Monkey, including Tres Jolie dress shop and the restaurants Noodle and Fresh To Order. Tres Jolie and Fresh To Order have since reopened, while Noodle is wrapping up repairs and hopes to reopen before the summer.
“We’re working on it, and we’ve also taken the opportunity to do a little remodeling,” said Parker Hilley, the general manager of Noodle’s Decatur location. “Now we have a whole new restaurant to show people.”
Noodle has not set an official reopening date.
Java Monkey has not started reconstruction and is waiting on the city’s planning department to approve their designs, Stickland said. The inside of the restaurant has been completely cleared out, while the area that used to feature Java Monkey’s wine bar and outdoor patio has been torn down.
“Literally all that’s left is the concrete on the ground. Everything else is gone,” Stickland said.
He hopes to rebuild the coffee shop — a staple in Decatur for more than 20 years — “in a slightly different way than it was,” Stickland said.
“Everything’s going to be new,” he said. “On the plus side, it’s gonna look cooler than ever, once we’re done.”
Thomas, who Stickland said was fired from Java Monkey three days before the fire, has been wanted by authorities since late November.
He was arrested in East Point after a woman he was living with called police and said Thomas had threatened her, East Point police Deputy Chief Russell Popham said. Thomas had also told her he was wanted for arson, Popham said. He was found walking near the home, and officers found there was a warrant out for his arrest.
According to the warrant, filed in the DeKalb County Magistrate Court, Thomas was seen on surveillance video at Java Monkey holding a stick that looked like a broom handle, which may have been used to break a window at the back of the coffee shop late on Nov. 11.
The warrant stated he “had been fired … and then harassingly called and stated to several people he would burn the business to the ground.”
When firefighters arrived at the business about 11:25 p.m. on Nov. 11, the blaze reached the roof before it could be contained.
Thomas had seen legal trouble before the fire.After pleading guilty to a second-degree burglary charge in 2016, he entered the Felony Mental Health Court Program, an alternative sentencing program aimed at defendants struggling with mental health issues, court records show. However, he was removed from the program last year, but granted bond, after violating the rules.
Hilley said she is also thankful Thomas was arrested, but acknowledged that “his arrest doesn’t bring Noodle back at all.
“It is kind of a relief to know that he won’t be able to do something like this again somewhere else,” she said. “We hope that he gets the help that he needs.”
Thomas, who remains held at the DeKalb jail, is expected to appear in court for a preliminary hearing next week.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.