On Saturday morning just several hours after a devastating pre-dawn fire gutted the interior of her long standing GiGi’s restaurant, owner Blondine Harvin sat heartbroken, surveying the scene at 257 East Ferry St. Initial reports placed the damage at around $150,000.
She was unable to respond at the time to the question of whether or not she would rebuild, replying only that it was too soon to tell, and asking simply that the community continue to pray“Just keep praying,” she said softly.
On Monday afternoon, it was evident that the prayers were working. Encouraged by the outpouring of community support in response to the tragedy – particularly the actions of Council President and Pastor Darius Pridgen who immediately sprang into action – a more optimistic Blondine, with her brother Rochester Davis at her side, sounded a lot more hopeful. “Yes we’re going to rebuild,” she said with confidence. It was too soon to offer a timetable she said, and it would probably take some time, but Gigi’s would reopen. “Everybody has been so supportive,” she continued, thanking the community. “We have heard from a lot of good people …we have had a lot of good support.”
It was Pridgen who immediately set up a GoFundMe page to help Gigi’s rebuild. In addition True Bethel Baptist will park its Bread of Heaven free food truck outside of Gigi’s on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays to not only provide free food to residents in the neighborhood, but to solicit donations on those days. Rev. Pridgen has set a goal to raise $12,000 to help the 12 employees who have lost their jobs in the wake of the fire.
On Monday volunteers from True Bethel including pastor Pridgen’s father, Earl Pridgen and several long time employees of GiGi’s were on hand at the food truck to help out and show their support as passers-by walked up and drove up, to make donations. George and Mattie Holt, owners of Mattie’s Restaurant, one of only a handful of Black-owned restaurants in the city, displayed a heartfelt show of unity when they extended their support in whatever way they could.
Council Member and True Bethel Baptist Pastor Pridgen said it best when he described Gigi’s as “more than a restaurant.” “It’s an institution,” he declared. Blondine, at 77 years young, has dedicated well over 50 years of her life to keep the business open. In 2008 the restaurant underwent a $190,000 renovation as part of the Commercial Area Revitalization Effort (CARE) Program, administered by the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation.
Gigi’s is considered a landmark of Buffalo’s East Side
The soul food restaurant has been in business since 1960, and can be compared to Atlanta’s famous Paschal’s Restaurant, which has been called the official headquarters of the civil rights movement. Gigi’s, like Paschal’s, has over the years been the meeting place for politicians and community activists. A host of “famous” and notable people, too numerous to mention, have eaten there.
During the ribbon cutting seven years ago to mark the newly renovated establishment, Daryl Harvin, Mrs. Harvin’s son, declared, “This is the community’s restaurant and it will continue to be the community’s restaurant.” That declaration still holds true.
At press time officials were continuing their investigation into the cause of the fire. Donations can be made Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at the True Bethel “Bread of Heaven” food truck in front of the restaurant or at the GoFundMe site on-line. The page is titled Gigi’s Fire Help.
“Trust me,” said Rev. Pridgen in announcing the fundraising effort, “ the lady will rise again!”