In an early morning Zoom meeting around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 27, chef Eric Kaplan of Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q & Pizza was disrupted by police repeatedly knocking on the front door of his home. Kaplan, who lives above the local eatery with his wife and co-owner, Ruth Perretti, came downstairs to find smoke spreading through the building.  

“It turned out that police had driven by and saw smoke filling the restaurant,” Perretti said. “Some spark or something caught the smoker, we're not exactly sure what happened.” 

Earlier that day, Kaplan was smoking some brisket in the restaurant’s meat smoker, the couple said. At one point, he went downstairs to check on the brisket and everything seemed normal. He then turned off the smoker and went back upstairs for his Zoom meeting. 

According to Montclair Township’s Deputy Chief Robert Duncan, the fire department received a call at 9:04 a.m. of a smoke condition. 

“Montclair Fire Department units responded, found and quickly extinguished a fire in the kitchen area,” Chief Duncan said. “Fire and heat damage was confined to the area of origin, there was moderate smoke damage on the first floor and slight smoke damage on the second floor.” 

Duncan said the last unit cleared the scene at 9:56 a.m. As of now, the fire is under investigation.

“They were here right away,” Perretti said. “They got in and they put out the fire immediately.” 

Kaplan, once safely out of the building, tried to reach Perretti, who wasn’t home at the time. That morning, Perretti was out on their farm in western New Jersey, working on building a mill for an ongoing grain project. 

“I got texts and calls from my neighbors,” Perretti said. “Eric had tried to reach me, but I couldn’t hear the phone ringing.” 

Perretti said she received pictures from the neighbors vi texts of fire trucks outside of the restaurant. “Needless to say, I was very stressed out,” she said. 

Perretti eventually reached her partner and learned that no one was injured and everyone was safe. However, their restaurant is temporarily closed as they evaluate the smoke damage.

“We have to replace our smoker and there's a lot of cleanup,” Perretti said. “We're assessing all that right now.” 

Damage after fire at Ruthie’s BBQ and Pizza (COURTESY OF RUTH PERRETTI)
Damage after fire at Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q & Pizza (COURTESY OF RUTH PERRETTI)

On Wednesday afternoon, Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q & Pizza announced to the community, on both Facebook and Instagram, that the fire had occurred and that the restaurant would remain temporarily closed until further notice. Having to make that announcement, Perretti said, reminded her of the last challenge their restaurant faced — the COVID-19 lockdown. 

“The biggest incident we had was COVID,” she said. “That was a couple of years ago, and it just reminded me, when I posted on Instagram, about us being closed.” 

Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q & Pizza closed their doors in early March 2020, before the national lockdown occurred. With the number of live music events the restaurant held, at the time, the couple didn’t want to take any chances on staying open. 

The restaurant was closed for about three months that year, Peretti said, making the COVID-19 lockdown far worse than the fire. 

“This is much easier,” Perretti said. “You pay for business insurance, and you do things you need to do to protect yourself when you're in a situation like this. COVID was very different, in that it was so frightening for everybody. We didn't know what the answer was. It was much scarier than this situation because we didn't even know if we would open again at that time. Right now, we know we're gonna open again.” 

Today, Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q & Pizza is working on finishing up pre-existing catering orders and will not be taking any further orders until the restaurant reopens. Perretti predicts that repairs should take anywhere from two weeks to a month. By then, Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q & Pizza wants to celebrate its 15th year in business in Montclair. 

“When we do reopen, we want to have a big celebration for 15 years,” she said. “We’re both very proud of what we've created here and we’re so very grateful to be in such a loving community — my hometown.”