In the Wake: A chat with Respect is Burning’s Rob Gregorini

November 3, 2014

I can comfortably state that my “death row” dish of choice would be the Fettuccine Venezia on the Respect is Burning menu. I trust I’ll never be subject to death row, but in the case of, that dish, would of course be my choice.

So there I was, only a few days after the fire, mask on with camera in hand. The look of everything, flaked, melted, charred, unfortunate. No sounds or smells of joy…No Fettuccine Venezia.

Rob Gregorini, owner of RIB & extremely good friend of mine, had asked if I’d be able to document the now dreadful state of his once Lively & Successful Restaurant.

After the shoot, looking through the photos, remembering all of the great meals & conversations I’d had at RIB, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much this place meant to myself & to so many others. It was more than a restaurant with crazy delicious food & awesome art all around. I felt I needed to know more about why this happened, how my friend was coping & most of all.. I wanted to ask about the future. What could I & the rest of Sudbury look forward to?

I just wanted to sit down with Rob & chat BUT Gregorini is always on the go! Certainly one of the things I admire about the guy, he’s so passionate & driven & …well, that keeps him very busy! So I met up with him on one of his regular busy days & we drove around & chatted instead.


Here’s what was said…

( scroll to see Q&A after images)

Q: On the subject of Reactions what have you experienced?
A: “It’s hard to understand for those whose passion is simply making money or being the boss…they might not understand. But for us, RIB was not a just a work place – it was an embodiment of many many MANY categories of passions that we housed into one place, one gigantic space. A funky community place that we worked without stop & built up progressively and with loads of LOVE the past 15 years. The reactions? Initially, flat emotion. Shock. Then sadness – having to tell my wife, my little girl, my team who are mostly like extensions of my family. high emotion, low emotion etc. Then panic. Then calm and resolve. Press repeat.”

‘Its something crazy hard hitting, insanity to be hit with…but after day 4 or day 5…as a boss who leads people, gotta put on the Big Boy pants. Gonna crash through this one. It’s just another day at the office’.

Q: How has your experience with support been since the fire?

A: “The support has been ..& STILL is Overwhelming. Supportive messages were – and still are – just flooding in on Facebook. Those aren’t and will never be forgotten – and some day soon we’re gonna do something exceptionally cool for all those amazing friends.”

Q: And regarding the negative comments?

A: Regarding the Nay Sayers, I don’t think you can ever do anything in life that’s notable without someone throwing a few tomatoes. I can’t really be concerned with that, although initially, there was some hurt. Our dream has never been about a restaurant. Our dream has been about engaging a much larger group of people to the downtown area, engaging our love for food, entertainment, culture and people as a magnet to draw our community back to our Downtown. This has become our Life’s Work that extends far beyond those walls – into our personal lives and almost every waking moment is about exerting effort and love for this community, becoming a force of charity and meaningful employment for our awesome RiB Family, and so on. The usual base hateful things that we saw from the usual online trolls…malicious, despicable and of course I wanted to lash out. But like any other crisis, it divides peeps and reveals a persons true colours and spirit. And that just has to be ignored. Did I mention I’m busy? Fuck the haters.”

Q: It’s my belief that a huge portion of Sudbury is still entirely unaware of just how far you were in renovations. Can you tell us a bit about the progress you’d had before the fire?

A: “We were at the tail end of completion. The day following the fire, we would have seen the painters coming in to do the finishing touches, the final lighting fixtures were to be hung, 2 days later the kitchen crew were scheduled to put in the rolling pieces of equipment & were to be trained on the new menu roll out. That’s how close we were…

Enter a catastrophe that’s derailed everything for now 7 months and counting – with no easy resolve quite on the dashboard yet. I’ve kept quiet about the scope of devastation to our business and property, that’s my problem and no one else’s. The frontage is completely cloaked so unless you’re an official involved in this after-disaster process, you’re most likely unaware of the enormous magnitude of crap we’re up against. Put it this way – we’ve got over 10,000 square feet of utter, horrid ruin with almost 100% of contents of the entire complex either burned, melted or eaten alive by the acidic nature of the airborne resulting soot and smoke. For good measure stir in thousands of gallons of water to snuff out the raging fire – water that came crashing down through two floors and into the underground of the operations. It’s a complete, devastating, complicated disaster. And still, 7 months later – due to the complications of the entirely mind-blowing, snail slow, spirit sucking insurance process – we’re still in wait with an entirely shelled out building. IN LIMBO. But still alive, kicking and thinking how the hell do we do this all over again…

Q: In the photographs, we witness some of RIB’s most memorable pieces. How much of your collection fell victim to the fire?

A: I guess to answer that question I’ve gotta paint you a picture of the course of events. You know the Supperclub well – all three floors. That makeover was tight – we were on course of rolling out a completely new version of our Respect is Burning Kitchen & Bar. New expanded kitchen that would not only speed up service but also expand our RiB offerings and service an entirely new concept for our adjoining Red Fang Tavern. Spectacular new bar in a different location, more bathrooms (moved of course from that god awful location our guests miraculously put up with for over 14 years!), new paint, new lighting and so on. A COMPLETE makeover.

So in order to get it all done with the least amount of ‘down’ time, we’d planned a tight execution – a 17 day schedule over 40 workers, sometimes collectively gathered on the same floor in there respective different trades hammering & sawing away. That’s a lot of activity and a lot of ‘stuff’ (picture every table, chair, fork and spoon, wine glass, sound equipment, kitchen equipment, all curios, and so on) that had to be relocated so the crews had mobility and freedom to work fast and unencumbered. That required a complete evacuation of the contents of the main floor kitchen, bar, dining room, everything. Everything was moved upstairs to the Mars Hall.

Its clear the blaze broke out at the foot of the main floor to top floor stairs, climbing up the the open stair case like a giant chimney – consuming everything in its path. That means not only the walls, structures, stairs – that means pretty much everything being temporarily stored top floor…as well as everything that made the Mars Hall what it was. (NOTE: The ‘Mars Hall’ was the Supperclub’s funky assembly hall outfitted with irreplaceable 70’s architecture, light fixtures, antique & retro props…you get the picture. It was a mainstay over the years, hosting thousands of large private parties, concerts, food events, rock shows, deejays and so on. THE Party Room.)

To contrast, lets talk a “paint by numbers” chain restaurant, with nothing unique – generic mass run gibberish. Respect is Burning Supperclub was way MUCH more than a restaurant. It was an eatery, a huge art space, a bizzarre curio showroom, a collectible warehouse. I’ve been a collector of many things retro, cult status, Pop Art significant since I was a child & most of that collection was in that space. Antique, mid century modern, seventies and sixties…the sights of RiB were the result of decades of eclectic scavenging HAHAHA. Call it whatever, it’s not replaceable – and that sucks bananas.

Q: If you could have saved one thing what would it have been?

A: “My sanity, haha. To be honest with you, I can’t even answer that. There were just so many meaningful square inches of artifact in that space. It was a living, breathing ‘thing’. It wasn’t just a business, a service where we pumped out food. What do i miss? I miss the whole damn thing. I miss being Downtown everyday, every night, our staff, our guests, the smiles and noise…Everything.”

Q: When regarding the look of the RIB we knew, will the rebuild show resemblance in any way?

A: “I’ve always believed I wanted to create something that went beyond the physical. And I believe that we’d done that. There’s a soul there that’s there beyond the walls…I think it’s been there since before the building was mine – and I think it’ll be there long after we’re gone. The space has history and it speaks. I think over the years and versions of morphing stages of our spaces we’ve given it some other funky and fun languages to speak in. And the community has crafted tons of positive memories gathering there.

Will it show resemblance ‘physically’? I don’t think so, but am not even at the stage to answer that yet. As it looks, insurance may not cover what it would take to go there. And again, all of those curios are gone – they certainly were a huge part in the look/feel. So I guess I say that was the old story. I can say I’m already scavenging the city, the province, the country and beyond for affordable ‘things’ in best efforts to get this project rescued and on the way. That alone will dictate that things won’t be the same, but necessity I guarantee is going to bloom into something super-cool again. The old story was the old story, I don’t believe in doing the same thing twice. All my establishments have ‘that edgy soul’ but as far as a cut & paste back into place, not exactly possible. We’ll leave the old bones be. Leave the old memories be.”

Q: What are you most excited for in the future & on this new adventure you’re hopefully soon to embark, how might those who are fans of yours be able to support you & share the adventure with you?

A: “Truly, I’m excited to bust through the gates the ‘post-disaster process’ has put down. I find the whole process beyond the fire to be the largest, most challenging and certainly most complicated process and learning curve I’ve experienced over the last 15 years. And I thought the restaurant business was complicated! I thank the universe every day for putting some extremely dedicated and knowledgeable people by my side, and my family to keep me strong.

We’ve definitely got massive financial challenges ahead of us. The biggest decisions of our lives are almost in front of us and though we’re nervous as hell, we’re also determined. Our fate is uncomfortably in the hands of the insurance powers that be, and our due diligence is pushing forward but may only carry us so far towards that Plan A finish line. Plan A is of course to finish what we started and where we left off – to rebuild, kick ass, and be a flagship and champion of our Downtown…ringing cool people in our community together Downtown often. With good food, of course.

If we hit a sticking point in funding, we’re considering a few things….options that will really help us finish this shaky project but also engage the community in a positive way towards our rebuild. That’s where we reach out and engage our community & somehow humbly ask for support. And if it comes to that, there will deff be a reward for the honour of receiving time and assistance…for investing in our future & in our beliefs, and in some part of the future of our Downtown and the important community role we’ve always worked towards playing. Plan A is the best plan for so many reasons – for starters we employ over 50 young people. That alone is worth saving. Without question.

Q: Is there anything else you feel is necessary to share with anyone about this experience you’ve had?

A: “We’ve been through a lot in the last 7 and a half months, but everyone goes through something. Everyone does. In this case not one human being was physically harmed, thank god. I truly believe that challenges are doled out everyday. I’ve found a lot of peace, zen & understanding by accepting that this is just another one of life’s challenges and am resolved to clobbering through. HULK SMASH style. No matter what…we’ll be fine.

I guess my message is no matter how bleak things seem to be, break it down to small, actionable, doable things that make that big picture not seem so scary & charge forward …& break through.”