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August 8, 2012

Community Rallies Around Destroyed Hot Tamale

HT Co. Fish TacoThings haven't been easy for Moana Dixon lately. Her mother, Hot Tamale's founder and executive chef Cheryl Kaheleilani  was in the hospital on Friday night, but Dixon kept the Johnson Mexican take-out eatery open late to cook for a number of orders, including a party of more than 10 people getting food for a regular customer's birthday.

"I was cooking chips," remembers Dixon. "I had a whole bunch of orders — we make everything fresh — I dropped in a batch  of chips and I turned away from the stove and thought, "Shoot! I have to turn it off really quickly.' Someone asked me a question and I got distracted and stepped away from the stove."

The grease fire quickly moved across the deck of the rental house at which Dixon and McCabe also live. Before long, Dixon heard the propane tank out back hissing. She grabbed her dog and purse from upstairs and fled just before the house became engulfed in flames. "I thought, 'Holy shit, that's a fire,'" she says. Indeed, firefighters from eight different departments battled the blaze for close to seven hours. The house next door also caught on fire.

"It's just 100 percent a loss," says Dixon. All of Hot Tamale's equipment is gone, including cookware and ingredients purchased from Mexico. The only thing left standing is the company's eye-catching sign. Since the family rented their home and restaurant space, they did not have insurance beyond the liability policy necessary to participate in farmers markets.

But though the building known as Hot Tamale is gone, the markets live on. With help from the staff at the Hub Pizzeria and Pub, also in Johnson, Hot Tamale is already selling its wares at farmers markets this week in Johnson, Jeffersonville and Essex. The Hub hosted a cash mob Monday night at which the restaurant served Hot Tamales tacos. Dixon says the Hub is planning another fundraising even for August 18.

Until then, Hot Tamale is accepting donations of local produce, meat, dairy and eggs to help allow them to keep cooking. A button on the restaurant's website also connects donors to Paypal for monetary gifts.

Through all the hardship, Dixon is already making plans. On April 5, Hot Tamale's Kickstarter campaign ended with $2,296 raised to open a full-service restaurant. She says that she'll now work harder than ever to find a space in a more heavily trafficked area than Johnson, likely Stowe.

Can't wait until then for more chicken mole tacos, chorizo-and-cheese-stuffed gorditas or berry tamales? Click here to donate.


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