ROCHELLE – It was a long 17 months for Ava Mirtoska, owner of Grubsteakers Restaurant.
The business she’s run for almost 12 years was destroyed by a tornado on April 9, 2015, the same storm that later tore through in northwestern DeKalb County, where it destroyed several homes and killed two people.
After more than a year of working part-time jobs and contract work, Mirtoska recently reopened Grubsteakers in a new building at the same location at the northeast corner of Routes 64 and 251. It’s been a pleasure to be reunited with regulars, who begin arriving when the restaurant opens at 6 a.m.
“Pretty much all of them have been here, and they’re glad to be back and they’re very happy to be back to home,” Mirtoska said said from the restaurant Thursday afternoon, the sound of dishes and flatware audible in the background. “That’s what all of them pretty much tell me, our home is back to normal now.”
For Mirtoska, the feeling is mutual.
“I’ve been in the place close to 12 years, I really like to be here and it makes me feel good to be around family,” she said. “This is my family.”
The restaurant, several vehicles in its parking lot, and several nearby homes were smashed by the twister before it moved on to Fairdale, destroying farm buildings and homes along the way.
Two weeks after the storm, Mirtoska was recognized by the Ogle County Board for her actions that night: She saw the storm approaching and, with just minutes to spare, ushered her customers and employees into a storm cellar.
About a dozen people rode out the storm with only minor scrapes and were rescued a couple of hours later by firefighters.
One customer who Rochelle police say did not go into the cellar was 68-year-old Michael McDonald of Whiting, Indiana, who would later be charged with stealing almost $1,000 from the restaurant’s cash register that night. McDonald pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 months supervision earlier this year.
After the disaster, the rebuilding work began. Months were spent planning and getting the necessary permits before construction began on the new restaurant in December.
The community pitched in with several fundraisers to help with rebuilding costs.
The restaurant’s new floor plan resembles the one its customers grew to love, along with more seating, a bigger bar area and larger bathrooms.
Debris from the restaurant was scattered by the EF4 tornado, with signs, credit-card receipts and menus being found as far as 60 miles away. Mirtoska said some people have returned items to her, but she hasn’t really incorporated anything from the old place into the new building.
The menu does include a few new items: a tornado burger, tornado skillet, and even a tornado waffle with fruit, whipped cream and chocolate syrup.
“It’s a lot better,” Mirtoska said. “It fits more people now, and of course everything is new.”
By ERIC R. OLSON Published: Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016 12:38 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016 3:13 p.m. CDT