Fire destroys what some call a city institution
Dec. 8, 2004
Meghan Mullan
Staff Writer

Christopher Anderson/The Gazette

Joe Lasick (left) talks on his cell phone as his father Sonny (right) waits to make decision about the future of their family's restaurant that burned Monday. Joe Lasick now owns the restaurant his father and grandfather built.

College Park community members find themselves still reeling in disbelief over a Monday fire brought down a city institution.

Lasicks Beef & Seafood restaurant burned beyond repair Monday morning in a fire set by an unknown arsonist sometime before 7:30 a.m., fire officials said.

"I felt bad," said Bill Bladen, a life-long city resident who frequented the establishment as a young man. "Lasicks helped people in the vicinity. They did a lot of good for the community."

Pete Piringer, president College Park volunteer fire department, grew up in the city and spent many evenings after fire department softball games socializing at the establishment. Piringer remembers in the 1970s when the restaurant was called "Lefty's" for the legendary University of Maryland basketball coach Lefty Driesell. Back then, the place was a well-known local steakhouse that served seafood and beer, and had a liquor store, too. Over the years, the restaurant evolved to include an enclosed patio dinning area.

The Lasicks were always involved with the community and often held fund-raisers for firefighters to "bring people in and raise some funds," he said.

And it was College Park firefighters that saw the black smoke clouds rising from the fire at Lasicks Monday while containing a fire only a few blocks away at the Best Western Hotel and EJ's Landing Restaurant.

Ravi Shanker, owner of EJ's Landing, said the fire started outside a back door to their kitchen and engulfed the exhaust system. The fire damaged the outside wall of the restaurant, entering second floor hotel rooms and a third floor penthouse. Three adult guests had to be rescued.

But the restaurant remained mostly intact, Shanker said. "The ceiling in kitchen...[has] smoke damage," he said. Water in the restaurants two banquet rooms did some damage also but the business is focusing on cleaning up and plans to be up and running "early next week," Shanker said.

December is the start of a busy banquet month for the restaurant, and Shanker hopes to be ready to handle the business.

But at Lasicks, getting back to serving customers will take much longer. A broken natural gas line at the fire scene created a torrent of fire, which witnesses said sounded like a jet engine. Firefighters were not able to enter the burning building until Washington Gas Co. officials shut off the gas line at the street level. Fire officials deemed the structure, which has stood for some many years, "a total loss."

The white brick building with green awnings was a prominent fixture along the city's historic main road. The Lasick family moved the business to the current site in the 1940s after originally starting a business on a site near the current Honda dealership on Route 1.

For over six decades, the establishment has been run by three generations of Lasick men. Currently operated by Joseph "Joe" Lasick Jr. and his father Joseph "Sonny" Lasick Sr., the business was started by Sonny Lasick's father. When the business moved to its current site, Sonny Lasick spent afternoons helping his father to build the place "brick by brick," with his own hands instead of going swimming with friends, said Joe Lasick.

The restaurant was known more recently for its one-of-a-kind nautical décor. A beached wooden boat out front caught the eye of Route 1 motorists and welcomed guests. On Tuesday, the boat lay under debris. The ceiling inside the restaurant had collapsed and everything inside was charred.

A large stuffed sailfish and some authentic portholes were saved, Joe Lasick said. Many of the nautical items in the restaurant came from the ocean bottom where Joe Lasick collected them when he worked as a diving team captain in Florida retrieving accident evidence.

Residents remember Lasicks as a welcoming place where patrons ranged in age from 19 to 90.

"We'd always run into somebody we knew," said College Park City Councilman David Milligan. "Lasicks drew a lot of people from the North College Park neighborhood, both young and old."

Milligan said when he patronized Lasicks he would see groups of college sorority women and older adults enjoying the atmosphere together. Milligan said the restaurant, which included a bar, had "very good" visiting musical acts.

"It was a welcoming place," he said.

Joe Lasick and his father have no intention of giving up.

"My father and I will rebuild," he said. "I don't need to get depressed. I need to get going."

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