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Restaurant open again just days after blaze

PUBLISHED: 08:00 18 December 2009 | UPDATED: 09:01 01 August 2010

STAFF at a Bungay restaurant have pulled out all the stops to reopen after its Christmas bookings nearly went up in flames.

Just five days after shoppers saw fire take hold of the building on Earsham Street that houses the Bahn Thai restaurant, it was back open for business yesterday.

STAFF at a Bungay restaurant have pulled out all the stops to reopen after its Christmas bookings nearly went up in flames.

Just five days after shoppers saw fire take hold of the building on Earsham Street that houses the Bahn Thai restaurant, it was back open for business yesterday.

The drama unfolded at about 2.20pm on Saturday when neighbouring trader Jenny Stephenson realised something was wrong as she crossed the road from her business, The Wedding Shop, to her other shop, Jenny, which is next to the restaurant.

"There was smoke coming out of the window, I could see how the window was turning black," she said. "I ran into Lodge Cordell and just screamed for someone to dial 999. There was just black, black smoke. It was absolutely awful."

She said she saw smoke starting to come down the stairs, adding: "That's when the windows blew out. I thought it was an explosion but it was the heat."

No one was hurt and the two people working in the restaurant at the time, who were in the cellar and kitchen, managed to get out of the three-storey terraced building quickly. A Suffolk police spokesman said one person was treated for smoke inhalation and that the fire was not being treated as suspicious.

Fire crews from Bungay, Beccles and Halesworth, and Harleston in Norfolk, were called to the scene and by 3.15pm they had brought the flames under control.

Restaurant manager Gary Rhys-Taylor said that although the fire had been contained in the first floor, the restaurant below had suffered extensive water damage from crews putting out the flames and said the decision was taken immediately to reopen as soon as possible.

"The work kicked in on Sunday," he said. "It's Christmas and we've got a lot of bookings so we didn't want to let our customers down. We've had to take down a ceiling in the restaurant and replace it, re-lay a flooring where it had lifted from water damage and totally redecorate one room."

Despite having to close and lose business on Saturday night, which was fully booked, Bahn Thai was open in time for lunch yesterday after a huge round-the-clock effort.

Mr Rhys-Taylor said: "I've rung round all the people who have got a booking and told them we are back in business. We have surprised a lot of people who said we'd never do it - but we have. It's looking very good."

He said the fire was a particular shock for the owner's sister, who arrived back with her newborn baby on Saturday in the middle of the commotion.

He thanked the people of Bungay for their support, adding: "We've had extremely kind offers - the fire was in the residential accommodation and we've had so many offers to go and stay with people."

Mrs Stephenson, who raised the alarm, said her shop that adjoins the restaurant only opened last Saturday after a huge refurbishment project and was lucky to escape damage. She pointed out the buildings in that part of the street were all old and terraced, adding: "It could have been an awful lot worse."

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