Naplate restaurant owner saves customers from tornado, restaurant destroyed

NAPLATE, Ill. (WLS) -- The Village Grille is a popular spot in Naplate. The owner says it's even become a destination for people from out of town. But it also is located directly in the path of Tuesday night's tornado, along a stretch where the most damage was sustained.

When the storm hit, owner Gina Chavez was able to get her customers to safety, but when they emerged they found the restaurant destroyed and eerie scenes of the tornado's chaos.

Remnants of meals suddenly interrupted sit on the tables.

"I was actually over here by the fryers cooking fried chicken and fried mushrooms," Chavez said.

The chicken and mushrooms are still in the fryer Wednesday. The roof, on the other hand, is gone.

Unsure of how strong the coming storm was, Chavez initially kept working as normal Tuesday night.

"The lights finally stayed off so I came out here and, um, used my phone for a light. It was the noise and everyone's ears were popping," she said.

At that point, she and her customers only had a few seconds to react.

"This is old school, not may places have these anymore, but this is where we went," she said, showing ABC 7 Eyewitness News the trap door in the floor of the bar.

Chavez helped scrambled seven or eight customers through the dark hatch to the basement.

"A lady fell and then another lady, because they were pushing each other, they were panicking," she said. "I really had no idea until I came back up how bad it was."

Chavez re-emerged to destruction.

"This is our storage room. Well, not anymore," she said.

The damage shows how oddly discriminate a storm can be. The storage room is now roofless, but glasses stayed on the shelves. A half-drunk beer stayed untouched at the bar. Pieces of Naplate's history somehow stayed perfectly in place, hanging on the walls. But debris are strewn all across the iconic village restaurant.

As they tried to clean up at the restaurant Wednesday afternoon, another wall in the Village Grille was blown over by persisting high winds. Chavez said she's not sure what will happen with the restaurant next; she only hopes they will be able to recover it.
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