Holiday cheer gave way to harsh reality Saturday as a Brooklyn businessman stood outside his family’s shuttered catering company just hours after a devastating Christmas Day fire.
“Never went through anything like this,” said Bassett Caterers owner Russell Dantonil, 60, speaking against a backdrop of shattered windows. “You go into work every day, and you just take it for granted, you know, that you never have a problem.
“You never think anything like this is going to happen, and then it happens.”
The blaze inside the business, a Sheepshead Bay fixture since 1962, erupted around 6:50 p.m. Friday and will likely close things down for at least two months during the typically busy holiday season.
The company provided delivery and takeout food along with catering for off-site events ranging from weddings to birthdays to corporate gatherings, and its workers are now unemployed until the business can reopen.
“Even during the pandemic, we were open every single day,” said Dantonil. “Every single day. My guys had work, they got a paycheck every week. And now, not because of the pandemic, they don’t have their checks. It’s going to be hard on them.”
Two minor injuries were reported after 138 firefighters turned out to battle the blaze, according to the FDNY. Though fire marshals were still investigating, Dantonil said it appeared an electrical fire started in the basement and spread through the building before it was declared under control after two and a half hours.
Employee Raul Escobar, 62, saw the fire from his nearby apartment Friday and was back at the building Saturday as store workers helped Dantonil clean up the damage.
“I said, ‘My God,’” recalled Escobar, a three-year Bassett veteran. “It started smoking all over the place. I didn’t see no flame. It was just smoking.”
According to Dantonil, the building suffered a bit of structural damage that will require repairs.
“Everything else is just a bunch of smoke damage and a lot of cosmetic work,” he said. “Hopefully everything goes OK and we get things back up and running. But it is going to take a while.”
A neighbor recalled firefighters using a buzz saw on the business’ door to get inside Friday night after she noted the smoke and dialed 911.
“It’s depressing as hell,” said the 33-year-old woman, who only gave her first name as Noelle. “This place has been a staple in our (neighborhood) for a long time. They’re always busy ... It’s a very popular place.”
Dantonil offered his assurances that the business will return.
“I want to thank all the loyal customers that I had,” he said. “And you know, we will be back. We will be back in a couple of months.”