by Barbara Sherf
Despite the owners’ fears that customers would not flock back to South Ocean Asian Bistro in Flourtown, the community proved them wrong last Wednesday at the Grand Re-Opening. The Chinese/Japanese eatery, along with a half dozen other businesses, were forced to close following a devastating four-alarm fire at the Flourtown Pizza Shop in the Flourtown Plaza Shopping Center, 1666 Bethlehem Pike (at Weiss Avenue), on Saturday night, Jan. 4, of this year.
Many fire companies fought the blaze, including Flourtown, Spring Mill, Barren Hill, Wyndmoor and Oreland. The strip mall is anchored by Acme Market and contained Flourtown Pizza, South Ocean, Plaza Fashion Care Cleaners, the Verizon Store (which had gone out of business before the fire), Siro Beauty Salon, Pulse Dance Studio and the Picture Framing Gallery.
Al Comly, whose family has owned the strip since 1960, is also a recording secretary and volunteer firefighter who responded to the blaze, which he said was believed to have been electrical but was listed as undetermined in the final report.
“I called the owners of businesses right away and watched as they came and saw their livelihoods cease. It was heart-wrenching to see because they are all such hard workers,” said Comly, an architect whose family has owned the property since 1960. Prior to that it was the family farm dating back to the 1800s. “While we had insurance to make the repairs, I know the business owners did not have the kind of insurance necessary for this kind of thing.”
Mike Thornton, of Thornton’s Carpentry Service of Oreland, was putting some final caulking material near the front entrance to South Ocean. As a volunteer firefighter, he also responded to the fire that went clear through the roof of the pizza shop. He and fellow firefighter John B. Redington, of Just Beautiful Renovations of Flourtown, are serving as general contractors in the rebuilding effort. The owners of the pizza shop will not reopen, but the space is being renovated to accommodate a luncheonette of some sort, according to Comly.
At 10:45 a.m. last Wednesday, July 9, South Ocean owners Julia, 32, and Michael Lin, 36, and a small staff were busy preparing a “thank you” lunch for a dozen or so construction workers and nearby business owners before opening to the public for lunch.
But before they were even able to get the food on the table, Flourtown resident Mike Caruso, who has a local landscaping business, was at the counter waiting for his takeout order. “She (Julia) didn’t even need to ask what I wanted but simply put in my order for chicken and shrimp with steamed vegetables,” said Caruso, who joked that he lost a little weight while the smoke damage that affected South Ocean and neighboring businesses was being remediated.
According to Mike Thornton, “We were doing some work on the drains last year, and as fireman we convinced the owner to put in firestops in the joists. If it hadn’t been for the stops, I think the whole strip would have been engulfed in flames. It was a fast-moving fire.” Redington nodded in agreement. (According to Wikipedia, firestops are designed to restore the fire-resistance ratings of wall and/or floor assemblies by filling the openings in joists with fire-resistant materials.)
Franca Morrell, a native of Rome, Italy, and a hairdresser for 34 years, was looking over the new layout of the just-reopened Siro Men’s Hairstyling & Beauty Salon. “Thank God,” said Morrell. “It’s been horrible to be out of work. My husband is retired, and he was up at 6 a.m. and was ready to bring me over here. It’s been a long winter.”
Duck Yim, who owns and operates a dry cleaning business, Plaza Fashion Care Cleaners, was able to relocate quickly to another empty store in the shopping center because “people were calling and wanting their clothes,” but he is now back in his location next to South Ocean. He said business is a little slow with summer vacations, but he expects that once all stores in the strip are open, his numbers will be back where they were. Julia’s mother, Ni Yu Lin, and father, Doug Yong Yong, were on hand to help out, keeping drink pitchers filled and plates cleared.
Lafayette Hill resident Ann Morton was all smiles while waiting for her sushi.
“I had this date marked on my calendar,” she told Michael Lin, shaking his hand as he delivered plates himself to the diners. “This is one of my favorite places. They have such wonderful food and are a really nice, hard-working young couple. I’m so glad they are back.”
Dan Helwig, of Helwig Realtors in Flourtown has a sign in the corner property that formerly housed the Verizon cell phone store. “It’s 1,600 square feet of prime retail space and the most visible space. We are talking to a few people right now,” said Helwig. “Now that the shops are reopening, it will be filled.”
In their down time, Julia was able to spend time with her now 7-month old daughter, Ava, and the couple’s 6-year-old son, Daniel. They also put in place an ordering system on their web site. The Lins took over management of the eatery last fall from a retiring family friend.
In their down time, they were able to tweak the web site highlighting the dual cuisine, both Chinese and Japanese. “If someone is a big fan of sushi, but others in the party are not, there is something for everyone,” said Michael.
While the couple met in Philadelphia in 2001 through family friends, they came to this country from southern China in the late ‘90s and settled in Philadelphia.
A BYOB, South Ocean is open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 10 p.m. For takeout orders, call 215-836-8188, or visit www.SouthOceanPA.com. South Ocean is located at 1664 Bethlehem Pike, Flourtown.
Barbara Sherf is a Flourtown “foodie.” She can be reached at 215-990-9317 or www.CaptureLifeStories.com.