Ladji Sako, owner of Sako African Food Market Beauty Supply, stands outside the ruined store front following a fire in the business the night before. He said he will restart his business. -- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherlad.com

Austin owner has hope after fire destroys store

Published 12:00pm Wednesday, December 12, 2012

AUSTIN — Catastrophes have a knack for happening at the most challenging moments in life, and that happened again Monday in Austin.

While Ladji Sako of Austin sat at a home in Rochester next to his wife and 6-month-old baby, his business, Sako’s African Food Market, was burning. He just left Austin several hours earlier to be with his family, as his young son was born in June with heart complications, and they now take him on frequent trips to Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Then Sako received the call from the Austin Fire Department — a hard kick while he was already down.

“It was unbelievable to me,” Sako said about receiving the call. By the time Sako arrived at his business on Fourth Avenue NW in Austin, the fire already ran its course and destroyed everything inside.

Austin Fire Chief Mickey Healey said a coal-based incense likely caused the fire after aging, oxidizing and spontaneously combusting, much like damp hay does when it becomes hot.

“We believe that it’s going to be isolated to that,” Healey said.

A pedestrian noticed the store on fire and called 911 at 10:45 p.m. Other scents and perfumes may have fueled the blaze, but firefighters extinguished it quickly. Regardless, the items inside are gone.

“There is no use of anything,” Sako said. “Almost everything in there is gone.”

While adjacent businesses Interior Design Studio and Christopher Lee Photography were not charred in the blaze, they were encased with the odor of smoke. Lee said he will temporarily have to close his business because of the fire. Meanwhile, Sako has not received detailed damage estimates from his insurance agent.

Sako and his family may be down after the fire, but they’re not out. Sako doesn’t know how long it will take to resolve the insurance issues and cleanup, but he’s going to open again, whether at the same location or another.

“This would not deter me from opening another business,” Sako said, who has been running small businesses with his family since he lived in Africa’s Ivory Coast and opened his Austin store two years ago. “This is something I have been doing all these years. I’m still determined to be in business.”

But the initial shock Sako felt quickly dissipated. Nobody was injured in the blaze, and Sako knows the damage is already done.

“I can’t complain; it already happened,” he said.

Plenty of people have tried to sympathize with Sako, but he’s OK. Purses, clothing, shoes, body creams and food lie ruined after the fire. Yet in the backseat of Sako’s car lies the one thing he only seemed to care about salvaging, a dusty, charred piece of paper inside of a picture frame: his commercial business license.

“I know what I’m going through,” he said. “I just have to hold it as a man.”