CLEVELAND — A landmark Cleveland eatery was destroyed by fire Sunday.
J.W. Reed’s, located at the corner of North Main Street (U.S. 129) and Ga. 75, has operated for decades and formerly was known as Gateway Restaurant, but was better known as Ma Gooch’s.
The fire was reported just before 11 a.m. and numerous fire units from Cleveland Fire Department, White County Fire Services, and Lee Arrendale Fire Department responded.
“It’s very heartbreaking after 27 years of being in business,” said owner Ed Ward at the scene. “It's a tragedy. It’s very sad. I’m just really glad everybody got out ok and nobody got hurt. It's very heartbreaking."
Ward’s wife Regina and another employee were inside the restaurant getting prepared to open for business and did not realize the building was on fire until someone came running from M Star Motel, located just behind the restaurant, and banged on the door alerting them.
When the two exited the building, the whole place was filled with smoke, said Regina Ward. One firefighter told them they were minutes from being trapped inside the building.
“It’s just a sad, sad situation, I hate for Cleveland,” Ed Ward told reporters. “I hate it for White County. It's a staple here.”
Ward talked about the struggle to get to where they were,
“Being Ma Gooch’s forever and having to change the concept getting in the fight with the city about the alcohol was very difficult,” he said. “We got through it. We started going back up and business was doing very well and now this to happen it’s a major setback.”
Cleveland Fire Chief Ricky Pruitt, who was injured when he fell running to get one of the fire trucks out of the building to respond, said, “Upon our arrival, it had almost vented through the roof so it had been burning for quite a while.”
There has been no determination as to what caused the blaze, Pruitt said, Cleveland Fire Marshal Charlie Bryson will be working to determine the cause.
Ed Ward purchased and renamed the Gateway Restaurant to Ma Gooch’s in 1994, in honor of former longtime owner Pauline “Ma” Gooch, whose doctor advised her to sell and slow down after owning and operating the restaurant since 1967.
After 20 years of ownership, owners Ed and Regina Ward changed the name again in 2014 to J.W. Reed’s to reflect their family and the new menu items. J.W. Reed’s is derived from the names of their sons John and William, while Re was taken from Regina and ed from Ed.