Correction: A previous version of this story listed a Miami University professor as the owner of Hamilton Construction & Services International LLC. The professor is affiliated with the company, according to state documents, but is not the owner.
A fire broke out at Chunxi Kitchen, a Chinese restaurant at 12 S. Beech St. in Oxford, around 2:55 p.m. on Wednesday. Police and fire officials arrived at the scene soon afterward, and had the fire mostly put out around 5 p.m. No one was harmed.
Oxford Police Department (OPD) Sgt. Jon Varley was the first to arrive at the scene. Varley was in the UDF next door to Chunxi when one of the kitchen staffers ran from the restaurant and alerted him of the fire. Varley radioed the call in to OPD and the Oxford Fire Department (OFD) and went into the building to get the rest of the occupants out. There were less than 10 people inside at the time.
Police closed down parts of W. High St., W. Walnut St. and Beech St. while OFD positioned their trucks and hoses to contain the blaze. Flames leapt from the roof and smoke poured out of the seams of the roof and billowed up into the sky. Oxford residents and students lined nearby sidewalks and watched as Chunxi burned.
Xiang Wei Ren, whose Americanized name is Rico Rea, is the owner of the restaurant and graduated from Miami University in May of 2018. He stood smoking cigarettes with another Chunxi employee on a nearby street corner and paced back and forth while fire officials broke the windows of the restaurant to get a more direct shot at the kitchen fire.
“Probably the chef forgot to turn off the gas,” Rea said, although he was not in the building at the start of the fire. Two Chunxi employees said most of their coworkers were out to lunch when the fire began.
The building is owned by Hamilton Construction & Services International, LLC, according to documents from the county auditor’s office.
The building was constructed in 1960 and was previously the home of Stella Beech 12, a popular American-fare restaurant that shuttered in 2016.