After devastating Williamsburg fire, displaced tenants and café owners turn to community for support

williamsburg fire at cafe argentino
The owners of Café Argentino in Williamsburg are raising money to rebuild and reopen their restaurant, which was destroyed in an Aug. 23. fire. Displaced tenants of the apartments above the restaurant are also hoping to raise some money and find new homes.
File photo by Lloyd Mitchell

After a three-alarm fire destroyed a Williamsburg café and severely damaged the apartments around it, restaurant owners and tenants are looking for help as they begin to recover from the blaze. 

The devastating fire broke out at Café Argentino at the corner of Grand and Union streets just before 4 a.m. on Aug. 23 and quickly took over the building, sending tenants scrambling outside. No civilian injuries were reported, but six firefighters were injured as they battled the early-morning blaze.

cafe argentino fire
Café Argentino, on the order of Grand Street and Union Avenue, was destroyed in the Aug. 23 fire, and its owners are hoping to raise enough money to pay their staff as they rebuild and reopen. Photo courtesy Café Argentino/Facebook

Though the fire left the employees of the cafe and the tenants of the apartments above it physically unscathed, the restaurant has been shuttered while its owners try to raise enough money to recover and reopen, and residents left without homes are trying to stay afloat while looking for new residences in a particularly tough rental market.

Cafe owners Cristian and Valerie Herrera are hoping to raise $100,000 to rebuild their business and pay their staff while the restaurant is closed, Cristian wrote on a GoFundMe page. The Herreras “lost everything” in the blaze, he said. 

“It has become a family business where you will find their son Justin working as well as their parents Humberto and Norma,” the fundraising page reads. “The staff also have been committed to the café and are truly like a family. Everyone, including all the staff and family are hurting right now and will feel the impact from this terrible fire.”

fire in williamsburg
Six firefighters were injured in the three-alarm blaze, which displaced several tenants and destroyed the family-owned restaurant Café Argentino. File photo by Lloyd Mitchell

The family “poured all their funds and endless hours of love and hard work” into the restaurant, Cristian said, and now need help to bring the beloved café back to the corner of Union Avenue. In the five days since the fundraiser was launched, nearly 400 people have donated $33,205. 

Another resident, who asked not to be named, fled his apartment above the restaurant with his dog and not much else, a friend shared in an online fundraiser she started for him. The resident is looking for a new place to live and needs some assistance in the meantime, according to the GoFundMe page. 

williamsburg fire
At least one Williamsburg resident is looking for a new place to live after a devastating fire severely damaged his apartment building. File photo by Lloyd Mitchell

As of Sept. 1, the fundraiser had raised about $4,000 of the $10,000 goal.

“We are so thankful for his life and safety, but unfortunately the damage left his home in wreckage,” the fundraising page reads. “Your generosity will help him during this transitional time, as he works to pick up the pieces and find a new residence as soon as possible.”

As of Sept. 1, the resident told Brooklyn Paper, he and the other residents have been largely “out on their own,” and have not received much support — he has been relying on the Red Cross and staying with friends since the fire. None of the tenants had renter’s insurance, he said, so their options have been limited.

Update 9/1/2022: This story has been updated with additional information from a resident of an apartment that was damaged in the fire.