Earthquake: The Long Road Back : Open for the Memories : Recovery: Employees of Pizzeria Uno return to work in tribute to their boss, who died in the quake. It is the first business to reopen in Northridge Fashion Center.


The employees at Pizzeria Uno in Northridge came to work Wednesday and opened the place for business, but it wasn’t for the paycheck.

They did it for Adam Slotnick. In memory of their former boss, who died in the quake--and as part of an unspoken way of getting on with their lives--the employees rallied to become the first shop in the badly damaged Northridge Fashion Center to open since the Jan. 17 temblor. On that morning, part of their mall collapsed for all the world to see, and it became a symbol of the damage wrought in the San Fernando Valley.

Many of the restaurant’s employees were refugees from the Northridge earthquake, with damaged apartments and lost possessions. But they started showing up for cleanup duty the first day without really saying why.


“Instead of everyone being down, they all came in and volunteered to help,” said general manager Keith Ishibashi. “It’s been a healing process.”

As they work, talk always seems to turn to Slotnick. At 27, he wasn’t the oldest victim of the quake or the youngest, noteworthy neither for his heroism nor his folly. He was a just a nice guy, they say, a recent East Coast transplant trying to make friends and to make it up the career ladder at the close-knit restaurant chain.

“For myself, if I dwelled on the loss of a good friend without replacing it with fond memories, it leaves an empty spot and an empty feeling,” Ishibashi said. “When you stay busy at a restaurant where he worked hard, it brings back fond memories.”

“It’s not the money,” he said. “It’s what Adam would want.”


Indeed, if the mall was a focal point of the disaster, Ishibashi and other Uno’s employees said, they also wanted it to be a visible sign of the recovery, proving that Angelenos can dust themselves off and get on with it.

Wrapped in their work once more Wednesday, some said they could almost forget the quake and kept expecting to hear Slotnick’s familiar voice. “I’m still feeling that today; waiting for him to come around the corner,” said Lori Rudolph, 27, as she worked the bar. “And it’s just not going to happen.”

After snooping around for an hour Wednesday afternoon, a Fire Department inspector gave the restaurant permission to open, even though a tag remained telling customers the mall is closed. He warned Ishibashi to keep the looky-loos away from the construction next door, where workers were trying to shore up the damaged Broadway. On the other side of Pizzeria Uno is the Bullock’s store, which all but imploded.


Soon after the doors opened, several customers were eating deep-dish pizza or having a midday cocktail. Some were construction workers fixing the mall, which is expected to open in July. For others returning to their favorite lunch haunt, just being able to sit in a familiar Naugahyde booth was a small but welcome consolation in a world of drastic changes.

“We’ve lost so much. It’s really comforting that the restaurant is still here,” said Judy Palmer, who works in security at the Broadway. “It’s like family. We’re friends with everyone here.”

When Slotnick failed to show up the morning of the quake, some employees rushed to the ill-fated Northridge Meadows complex where he lived in a ground-floor apartment. Amy Barcellos was one of those there when firefighters pulled him out of the rubble.

“The fire chief said he died instantly,” Barcellos said, “that he didn’t suffer any pain.”

That pain, employees said, was saved for those who worked with Slotnick.

“There’s an unspoken feeling,” said hostess Mary LaRouche, 60, “that even though we’re stronger for going through this together, that Adam isn’t with us anymore. But you have to get back doing something, or you’re scared.”