MARBLEHEAD — They say everything happens for a reason. It might not have seemed that way on July 13, 2011, the day Barry Edelman watched his restaurant, 5 Corners Kitchen, go up in smoke.
That afternoon, Edelman had been celebrating his son’s 8th birthday at the restaurant, making gelato and pasta. Fifteen minutes after the party ended, the fire alarm sounded. At the rear of the building, an electrical fire had broken out. The blaze filled the walls with smoke. In the end, the structure would need to be gutted and take more than a year to rebuild. The restaurant has been reopened for less than two months and it took a community to accomplish that.
At the time of the disaster, it had been barely a year since Edelman, 33, had transformed an old bakery into a buzzing bistro on a shoestring budget. This first-time restaurateur traveled all over the state collecting used kitchen equipment. He did much of the construction himself with the help of his father-in-law, Greg Donovan, a furniture maker. Edelman’s French-Italian country cooking — he had worked at Lumiere and Aquitaine — including favorites such as skate wing, and smoked garlic sausage with lentils, soon became a hit. He got his start as a teenager in the Berkshires, in the kitchens of the Boiler Room Cafe and John Andrews. He considers his style, making “simple, humble food,” to be a return to those formative years.
As if the prospect of building a restaurant from scratch twice in two years wasn’t daunting enough, Edelman faced several unexpected delays. First, the insurance claim took several months to process. Next, in December, just when the architectural plans were ready, the building department informed the restaurateur that he would need to install handicapped restrooms to bring 5 Corners up to code. As it was, the 40-seat bistro barely accommodated a tiny kitchen (13 feet by 13 feet), an eight-seat bar, and, of course, Lilliputian restrooms.
Edelman tried to negotiate renting space from neighboring Terry’s Ice Cream, which had also been destroyed in the fire and was rebuilding. Negotiations did not pan out, but Terry’s vacated the space, which enabled Edelman to expand.
Now the only hurdle was money. Edelman had learned the hard way that he was grossly underinsured. “The insurance was barely enough to scratch the surface of what we needed,” he says. His advice to other owners: “Go check your policy right away, because chances are you’re not as insured as you think you are.”
Several pieces of good news: Much of the kitchen equipment was salvageable. In the dining room, chairs only needed to be reupholstered. To finance the remaining expenses, Edelman, who lives in Marblehead with his wife, Emily (she owns Two Girls Shop in Salem, a women’s clothing store), and their two children, took out loans and raised capital by asking supporters to buy large-quantity gift certificates. He also drew upon the creativity that had helped him the first time around. He, his family, and the kitchen staff made the dining tables. “For a couple of days we set up stations on the sidewalk and we sanded, varnished, and constructed,” says Edelman. “It was a complete team effort.”
Today’s dining room, says the chef, “is a hipper, more refined space,” where features like black steel beams, subway tiles, and funky lighting fixtures are set against clean white walls. The kitchen, bar, dining area, and
restrooms are now amply sized. The establishment even includes a separate bar-dining area.
Regulars find steak frites, chicken liver mousse, and skate wing back on the menu. They also see Edelman’s entire staff, who returned when the restaurant reopened.
“There is a lot of camaraderie here,” says cook Nick Venezia. “We are a team and family.”
At a party in late July, 5 Corners honored the patrons who helped finance the rebuild. “It was a thank-you to all of the people that supported us during our very tough time,” says Edelman.
The establishment has been packed ever since. “People were waiting and waiting for it to open,” says Ginny Eames, the building’s landlord.
If Edelman is looking for the reason that disaster struck, it might be that he discovered just how dedicated his team, his family, and his neighborhood could be when the chips were down. One year after the fire, he’s back at the stove, where he belongs.
5 Corners Kitchen 2 School St., Marblehead, 781-631-5550, www.5cornerskitchen.comAdrienne Smith can be reached at adrienne.n.smith@gmail