STRONGER: Local restaurant overcomes fire, tornadoes, coronavirus to reopen

Credit: Mark Fisher

Credit: Mark Fisher

Despite rebuilding challenges caused by last year's Memorial Day tornadoes and this year's coronavirus pandemic, a local Lee's Famous Recipe restaurant is poised to rise from the ashes of the devastating fire that destroyed it a year and a half ago.

“It’s all worth it in the end,” Ken Riddle, the restaurant’s franchise co-owner, said of the long-awaited reopening of the restaurant set for Thursday, May 28 at 4140 N. Main St. in Harrison Twp.

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The restaurant had gone up in flames caused by a fryer fire on Dec. 22, 2018.

Credit: Mark Fisher

Credit: Mark Fisher

“We’re a small company, having only 14 locations, so losing this store was like losing a family member,” Riddle said. “We transferred the entire staff to other stores nearby — no one lost their job because of the fire. Working through the rebuilding process has been a challenge. Between Insurance company stubbornnes; last year’s Memorial Day tornadoes, which damaged much of the area to the north of the restaurant;  and now Covid-19 — the obstacles have been many.”

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Reconstruction work slowed as subcontractors helped rebuild nearby homes and businesses damaged in the tornadoes. Some of the manufacturers that were supplying building materials had to shut down during the pandemic, which slowed the process even further.

Credit: Kole Smith

Credit: Kole Smith

Residents who live in and around the Lee’s Famous Recipe have been patient and supportive, Riddle said.

“Every time I’m at the site, from the time it was a pile of cinders after the fire through today when the building looks completed, the people passing by are always interested in knowing when we will be back open. They always take the time to say how much they miss the restaurant and look forward to it being back open again. That’s heartwarming, especially after the struggle to get it rebuilt.”

 >> PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken destroyed after fryer fire in Harrison Twp.

Customers “will see a brand new, modern restaurant,” Riddle said. “Our old location had been there for a long time and was looking a bit ‘tired.’ Things won’t be ‘normal’ yet because of some of the requirements we will be following to deal with the coronavirus — social distancing between guests and between tables in the dining room, no self-serve drinks — but it will be good to see some old faces that we haven’t seen in almost a year and a half.”

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The restaurant will reopen at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. The dining room closes at 9 p.m. each night; the restaurant’s drive-through will stay open until 10 p.m. each night.

For more information, call the restaurant at 937-278-9767.

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