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Monday, May 2, 2016

Fire destroys popular Brazil diner

Monday, January 27, 2003

Eddie's Sandwich Shop at 13 S. Walnut St. after fire destroyed the business Saturday afternoon.

Linda Messmer photo


Times Staff Writer

Eddie's Sandwich Shop is no more.

The Brazil Fire Department received a call at 1:34 p.m. Saturday that the restaurant at 13 S. Walnut St. was on fire.

When firefighters arrived at 1:36 p.m. fire was venting out the roof around the grill exhaust pipe. Inside the building there were flames about 10 feet along the ceiling and around the grill where it's believed the fire started.

The fire was extinguished in less than 20 minutes. Two engines and four firefighters were on the scene until 3:09 p.m. checking for hot spots. Walnut Street was closed from National Avenue to Jackson Street during that time. Assisting at the scene were Brazil Police officers Andy Whittington and Marty Beasley.

Damage was estimated at $15,000 for the building and $3,000 for contents. The owners had no fire insurance. The interior was gutted and is believed to be a total loss.

The eatery was full at the time of the outbreak but everyone got out safely and there were no reported injuries.

Customer Chuck Yocom was there with his 14-year-old son Chase.

Chuck Yocom said they had just been served when the fire was spotted. The cook, John Kocher, grabbed a fire extinguisher. When smoke started filling the shop Kocher told everyone to get out.

According to Yocom, the patrons exited calmly and never felt in any danger. He and his son took their hamburgers with them as they left through the back door. Chuck Yocom called the fire department on his cell phone. Father and son then finished eating their lunch standing out in the cold as they watched the firemen snuff the flames.

Owner Marjorie Kocher declined to comment Saturday evening. Kocher's brother, John Kocher, said that current state regulations and fire codes would probably make reconstruction of the business at that site prohibitive. However, he said his sister had made no decisions about rebuilding the business.

The diminutive diner is a landmark in downtown Brazil. The original proprietor, Ed Knierim, opened the business Jan. 21, 1931. He borrowed $200 from George Spugnardi to get started and paid him back a dollar a week.

Hamburgers were sold by the sack full for a nickel apiece. His son, Bob, took over the restaurant when Ed died Jan. 23, 1963.

Bob recounted his first experience working in the shop. He said he attended Schulte High School in Terre Haute. One spring day Schulte was not in session. One of Eddie's employees called in sick, so he asked his son to help out.

Bob said the place was packed that day. Every seat was taken and the high school kids and downtown workers were standing in line.

"Milk came in glass bottles then," Bob explained. "There was a paper insert that had to come out to open it. I had a hard time getting that paper out and splattered milk all over me and the counter. It was a bad day.

"When we got home that night Dad told my mom that he didn't think I could make it in the restaurant. And I told him I didn't want to. I said I wouldn't work in that shop for nothing," Bob laughed. "I started in the fall of 1960 after I graduated. The hamburgers were two for a quarter then. I worked there for 31 years, until I sold it to the Kochers on Dec. 31, 1991."

Many local residents considered eating at Eddie's a real treat. The trailer-size building measures approximately 10 1/2 by 30 feet. Customers could sit at the counter on one of the nine stools or stand behind the seated patrons.

The usual fare was a grilled hamburger, cheeseburger, tenderloin, sausage, hot dog or egg sandwich with a bag of chips and a soda. Plates weren't needed as the sandwiches were served on a waxed paper sheet. The consumer could apply his own condiments of dehydrated onions, pickles, and catsup or mustard that were sitting out on the counter

It was entertaining to watch the "chef" cook burgers on the open grill at the east end of the shop. Frequently he processed 20 or more of the White Castle-size hamburgers all at the same time. And the pleasant aroma of the cooking meat drippings made the customers' mouth water while waiting to be served.

If the restaurant cannot be replaced, it will definitely be missed. And after 72 years, Chase Yocom may have eaten the last Eddie's hamburger.

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