HUNTINGTON — After finding out the home of his favorite cheeseburgers with a nearby bar to jam in was destroyed in an arson fire in Huntington, Jim Belushi wasted no time in figuring out how he could help with the rebuild.
The well-known actor, comedian and musician first came to Huntington on a business trip to Hotbox Farms about three years ago, and while he was there, he stopped into Howell’s Cafe for a bite to eat, where he had the first of many of “the best cheeseburger I’ve ever had, period.”
Mike and Tina Wiley also had the Streamliner Lounge next door, and once Belushi found that out, he wanted to jam.
“I’m a magic chaser. I chase magic, and magic happens in an environment you create,” Belushi said. “Mike and Tina created an environment for that to happen for me: singing Blues on one side and going after those great cheeseburgers on the other side.”
Belushi says he had performed at the Streamliner at least twice, an idea that at first generated a lot of disbelief among locals who heard about it in its planning stages.
Mike Wiley said he got a call one day notifying him that Belushi was coming to town and wanted to know if Wiley could “put a blues band together.”
Upon making calls to local musicians, including Barry Carlman, Wiley said Carlman said, “April Fools was three days ago,” and later still: “Sounds good, but tell me the punchline.”
Carlman ended up getting a band together but even before they traveled up to Huntington, he called Wiley one more time saying, “My band members want to know if this is really happening.”
But they came and jammed and Belushi played 10 to 12 songs with them and “everybody had a great time.”
After the fire, the next time Steven Meland, co-owner of Hotbox Farms was talking to Belushi, he told him the news.
“He was instantly on board to do something,” Meland said of Belushi.
And a culmination of brainstorming led to a fundraising concert with Belushi and friends, which will be this Saturday at the park across the way from the recreational marijuana dispensary.
The concert will be free, however Belushi is hopeful that people will make enough donations to “restore a beautiful historic building, and bring some pride and joy back to that humble town.”
Meland said the victims of the fire are the focal point here, and it’s important to generate as much money as possible, adding “we’re going to match whatever donations we can get from folks that day — dollar for dollar.”
Wiley said the biggest expense for him right now is the cleanup, which has to be done between he and his wife’s regular jobs, which they’ve gotten busier at now out of necessity.
“It’s kind of overwhelming when looking at the cost to clean up,” he said, adding that anything unnatural to the earth (not brick or mortar) would have to be removed from the two full and two partial basements where the rubble sits from the 53-foot-tall historic building.
At the time of the fire, the Wileys’ businesses had both been closed since last September for the winter.
“We hadn’t decided whether to reopen for the summer, as my wife and I were both working and didn’t really have the time,” he said. “We didn’t know what to do, but somebody else made up our minds.”
Wiley was speaking of the arsonist, Raynmon Garcia, who was sentenced to 55 months in prison for starting the fire that destroyed the three businesses.
While the business had been closed, Wiley had shut off the utilities and opted not to carry insurance.
“I thought, ‘What could happen to an empty building?’”
And even if they had insurance, in the 16 years he owned it and those who owned it before, a policy “to rebuild what it was, was never affordable for anybody.”
There will be food vendors at the concert and the hope initially was that the Wileys would be there serving cheeseburgers, but they are unable to make that commitment now.
However, Wiley said if Belushi wants a cheeseburger when he’s in town, “I will personally make him one. I’ll barbecue for him and his band.”
Meland and Wiley both agree that the fire heavily impacted business in Huntington.
“This has affected the whole community,” Wiley said. “People have come here for years and depended on these businesses for years.”
While he’s grateful for the fundraiser and happy Belushi wants to help out, he’s not sure if the money raised would be enough to fully recover.
The Wileys have discussed the possibility of not rebuilding, but rather getting the foundation back into good shape to build on.
Mike said Tina has been searching the internet and found an old dining car.
“It would be neat on a rebuild to do something like that for an old railroad town,” Mike Wiley said.
It would be more affordable, and offer authenticity for “a neat little niche.”
However, “even if it doesn’t make much, it’s still really meaningful of him to come here and help out with this community,” Wiley said. “It’s an awesome gesture that he would even think about doing that.”
He expressed his gratitude for the support from the community members, as well as Belushi and Hotbox farms for coordinating the fundraiser.
Belushi said he lives for these kind of events, adding that Meland was very generous of his sponsorship of the event.
“I find people in this [cannabis] industry are all about that. That’s why I like it so much,” he said.
To this he added that when he does things for movies and TV, he’s usually exhausted at the end. However, with these types of events, he feels “wired” afterward.
And Belushi is looking forward to it.
“I’m excited to do it. … It’s just so easy for me to sing and dance — I live for it. And that joy can bring joy to the people listening and if they want to bring joy to Mike and Tina by helping, it’s a nice circle.”
The ultimate goal, Belushi said, is to “bring back the magic … whatever it takes to do that.”