Vandals to St. George Island’s BJ’s Pizza, in advance of one of the biggest weekends of the year, did an uncooling thing.
“We opened July Fourth morning. We showed up at 10 a.m. and went in to start working and setting everything up,” said owner Billy Blackburn.
His son Brad soon discovered the air conditioning did not work. George Pruett was called and he showed up sometime after 11 a.m.
“Billy, you have no Freon in that dining room unit,” the air conditioning man told Blackburn.
Pruett lead the investigation, which found something other than cold air coming out.
“We started noticing all this oil leaking out on the coils. That’s when we started noticing little holes,” said Billy Blackburn.
Holes in the grills made by an ice pick or awl were visible on the outside air conditioning units.
“They’re stabbing the grills trying to find the coils,” said Blackburn, estimating the incident happened “sometime in the wee morning hours of late night July 3.”
“This was a very vengeful person who knew exactly what they were doing to pick July Fourth,” he said.
Blackburn said all but two, busy with softball tournaments, of his two dozen employees would have worked the long holiday weekend, and most would have made overtime.
“It would have been an excellent day, all week it’s been. The game guy for the game room had his best week ever because of all the rain,” he said. “If a merchant on St. George Island isn’t making money right now, they better close the doors. There’s something wrong with their business.”
Blackburn, who opened the popular dining spot and hangout in 1990 with his wife Judy, said he checked around to see whether other businesses had experienced similar vandalism.
“All the other restaurants and bars are fine,” he said. “Whoever did this walked beside two air conditioner units at Prudential to get my four. They were coming after me.
“They knew exactly what they were doing,” said Blackburn. “Somebody has something against BJ's. We just don’t know why, or who.”
The financial loss was considerable, about $75,000 including lost business, which insurance does not cover.
Cases of frozen food, 20 cases of chicken, “that all had to be thrown away. We make dough one day and let it sit 24 hours. All that has to be thrown away.”
Pruett estimated the replacement cooling units and air conditioners would run more than $10,000, with parts shipped free by Trane.
The restaurant re-opened Wednesday morning.
Blackburn had taken a brief stab at staying open despite the vandalism, but “when the temperature got to 104 degrees in the kitchen and it was raining outside, I was afraid one of my employees would get hurt.”
Blackburn said he isn’t sure whom to suspect, but possibilities, even remote ones come to mind. A disgruntled employee, a rival business, even the angry residue from family strife, are being considered. Law enforcement said they are pursuing leads in the case.
“There are people out there that would have a motive to do things and somebody knows things,” said Blackburn, who is offering a $5,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators.
“And I will deliver it in $100 bills personally to ‘em,” he said.