A day after a fire consumed her family’s restaurant Fish and Blues, Barbara Johnson was greeting guests at her home who offered their prayers and shared their hopes that the popular Columbus area treasure would rebound.
“Friends of mine, they stopped by to wish us well,” she said. “Friday, oh my God, we had company all day.”
Johnson said she first learned about the fire Friday when she answered a phone call around 1:53 a.m.
“I was knocked out from working the day before when I got the call — the place was burning down,” she said.
“That woke me up and I first thought, ‘Am I dreaming?’ Then I looked at my phone again, got dressed, went up there and saw it was gone. … We were in shock most of the day.”
Johnson recalled a birthday party Thursday night at Fish and Blues and how the restaurant had just restocked so as to be prepared for what promised to be a busy weekend. She had a faraway look in her eyes as she spoke of the fire.
“Thank God no one was hurt,” she said. “That’s all that matters.”
Owned by Johnson’s oldest son Tavron, Fish and Blues opened in 2016 and quickly became renowned in the region due to Tavron’s culinary skills.
“My son had 76 messages on his phone Friday after the fire from people who called,” Barbara said.
Barbara said her son is still coming to terms with what happened and what’s next.
“My son really hasn’t said anything yet, you know, he’s really quiet so later on when we get together, he’ll tell me how he is feeling and what he thinks we should do,” she said. “This place was his dream.”
Barbara said it’s too early to say what’s next, but Tavron has got some things he is working on.
“Whatever he does, I’m here to help him,” she said.
She’s not alone.
Zachary’s pledged to donate 10 percent of all sales from Friday and Saturday to assist Fish and Blues’ recovery.
Its restaurant at 205 N. Fifth St. will continue to accept donations too.
So far, that effort has raised more than $5,000.
“When my friend came by, she said Zachary’s had people waiting and wrapped around the building Friday night,” Barbara said. “Everybody says that my son is very popular; everybody loves him. The community is coming out — I want to thank them.”
Zachary’s General Manager Dow Ford said as news spread about what happened to Fish and Blues, people showed their support.
“A lot of people thanked us for helping out,” he said. “Folks are familiar with the story so we were able to develop a plan to get the word out so that people were aware that we did this for Tavron, his mother and the restaurant.”
Ford said when Zachary’s experienced a similar problem in April 2019 when a fire damaged the restaurant, there was an outpouring of support from the community.
“Like Fish and Blues, we’ve been through this same thing,” Ford said. “The community came together and did a benefit for us. We remember and we are paying it forward.”
Barbara beamed with pride about her son’s cooking skills as she named all of her “No. 1 favorites” — pan fried or blackened catfish, fried green tomatoes, turnip greens, yams and much more. She called her son a natural-born chef.
“Tavron learned to cook on his own,” she said. “He was always putting stuff together, getting his daddy Lamar to taste it. It was his dream to be cooking, owning a restaurant. He has been cooking since he was 4 years old — he’s now 36. We’re very proud of him.”
Barbara said her son attended Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, a prestigious cooking school in Phoenix, Arizona.
Located on Highway 69, the restaurant was open Wednesday through Saturday and every other Sunday. Barbara worked there alongside her son and two other family members.
“We’re busy from the time we get there to the time we leave,” she said. “We have our customers so spoiled that as we are closing, they’ll call and ask for a plate. I’ll say we’re closed, but we cook it. Sometimes we don’t get out of there until late, sometimes a 12-13-hour day. We finish when we finish.”