Feeling the Burn
How some of the North's favorite eating and drinking establishments are faring post-fire.
By Ross Boissoneau | Feb. 23, 2019
Few things are more devastating for a business than a fire. The double whammy of loss of property and loss of income can completely destroy a business. And when it’s a community hub like a bar or restaurant, it can impact the town as well. From Kalkaska, where Dingman’s Bar was lost to a fire last month, to a series of fires which struck numerous Charlevoix properties over the past couple years, recovery can be difficult.
If and when they do return, it might be as if they never left. Or even better. Chuck Schilling said the opening of his Harbor View Café inside the Oleson’s Shopping Plaza in Charlevoix was a happy day not only for him and the staff but also for his customers.
Schilling had owned the restaurant for less than two weeks when a fire broke out. “I’d owned it for 13 days and was making improvements,” he said. Then water leaked into a new electrical panel. “It blew a hole in the conduit,” Schilling said, sparking a blaze that ultimately led to the entire plaza being taken down, including the Harbor View and four other businesses.
The fire (pictured above) was Jan. 3, 2018. The restaurant reopened Dec. 26 after being completely rebuilt. “It was 1950s infrastructure,” Schilling said, noting that zoning and code mandates made it impossible to rebuild just his portion of the structure. “You can’t tie in with new codes to that infrastructure.”
Knowing that he was going to rebuild and reopen, Schilling kept his chef, Matt Pater, and manager, Mary Kell, on payroll. “The response from the community has been wonderful,” he said.
While the Harbor View Café is welcoming customers again, others are still waiting. That includes Kate Vilter, owner of the Riverside Inn in Leland. “We’re struggling with the insurance company,” she said. “We’ve not started our building yet.”
The Riverside caught fire last October. Much of the damage was constrained to the kitchen, where the fire started, but other portions of the building suffered damage as well. “Most of the damage was in the kitchen, front entry, and bathroom. Smoke and soot got into the drywall, and four rooms above the kitchen were damaged. The kitchen has to be taken down to the studs,” Vilter said.
So not only is there a need to repair the building, but it will also mean brand new equipment. Vilter said she hopes to get word soon on the insurance claim. “I’m hoping to get clarity. We’ll see what happens,” she said, adding that she has a crew ready and waiting to get to work.
While the Riverside may yet welcome customers this year, it’s too soon to tell what will happen with Dingman’s Bar, east of Kalkaska. When it caught fire Jan. 16, it destroyed a favorite stop for snowmobilers. The bar was built in 1952, and it’s been owned for the last decade by Robert and Karen Laurence, who have said they plan to rebuild. A GoFundMe page — search “Rebuild Dingmans Bar” to donate — has been set up by friends and fans of the establishment to help with those efforts. At press time, the campaign had drawn $2,685 toward its $100,000 goal. Despite no longer having a physical space from which to serve customers, Robert Laurence continues to serve as a snowmobiler’s trusted sentinel of sorts, posting frequent updates on the area’s snow conditions.
The fire at Harbor View was one of four that struck Charlevoix in the recent past. The restaurant at the Charlevoix Country Club also was gutted by a fire, while a fire on River Street downtown took out Cherry Republic and nearby businesses and another destroyed Johan’s Bakery and Round Lake Gallery.
While many of the businesses in Charlevoix have rebuilt and reopened, Clayton Brown, owner of Johan’s, said he has no plans at this time to reopen in Charlevoix. While his main store is in Petoskey, the second location in Charlevoix was doing great business before fire broke out in November 2016.
“A lot of people were hurt [financially]. When it happens, it’s devastating,” he said.
Brown’s decision not to reopen in Charlevoix is not due to a lack of interest on his part, but the fact his former landlord is unwilling to lease to him, and he needs the right space for his business. “It’s got to be the right location. A lot of buildings are properties for retail. A bakery needs accessibility. You have to be handicap-accessible, have bathrooms, hoods and vents (for baking), plenty of power. Many wouldn’t fit that need. That’s why I won’t go back,” he said.
Yet in the next breath, it sounds as if Brown would be happy to return under the right circumstances. “I want to be back in Charlevoix,” he said. “We miss being there.” In fact, he thought he had a deal to return to the city when the building he was going to move into was sold. The new owner opted to lease to another bakery. That bakery has since gone out of business.
While he delivers to numerous locations around the area, Brown still holds Charlevoix in high esteem. “We miss being there,” he said.