WALLA WALLA - A history built over more than four decades unraveled in less than an hour at Mr. Ed's Restaurant on Saturday.Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8321.
Now owners of the one-time car hop-turned iconic local eatery say the business's next chapter will take another six months to unfold.
As far as timing goes, the fire that closed the Isaacs Avenue family restaurant couldn't have been worse for the 19 employees at the business owned by Dan Givens and Craig Potter.
"They woke up Saturday morning without a job three weeks from Christmas," Potter said this morning.
Five days later, community residents bent on providing a hearty holiday for the dislocated workers have organized at least four major fundraisers to help bolster the workers through the hardship. From spaghetti feeds to open houses, businesses, organizations and individuals have opened their doors, hearts and wallets to step in, Potter said.
"I've never been in this position before, but I have never seen the community pull together like this for a business," he marveled.
Firefighters were called to the Saturday morning blaze at 5:14 a.m. Potter and another employee had started preparing the kitchen for the day when the fire broke out on a grill. Damage was estimated at $175,000. Fire Capt. Brad Morris said this morning the cause is still undetermined.
Support in the aftermath has ranged from floods of telephone calls to a dedicated page on Facebook. Though neither Potter nor Givens had been particularly familiar with the social networking site, a memorial to their restaurant had 478 "fans" as of this morning.
Participants have poured out memories on the site, sharing details about dining at Mr. Ed's after passing a driver's test, recalling a first job there, harkening back to the old A&W days and extolling the virtues of the comfort-food haven known for Elvis Presley and classic car memorabilia.
Potter said he and Givens are determined to help support the employees and bring them back when the restaurant finally re-opens. The fundraisers, which kick off Saturday and run through next week, will first and foremost provide Christmas for the employees.
"The biggest need is presents for their children," Potter said.
Any money remaining after that will help support them through troubled times, he added.
"They've got to survive while we're getting back on track," he said.
The restaurant's insurance company has said employees will receive their hourly wage through the recovery. However, for servers that's only about half their income, Potter said.
Potter said a telephone tree is being created to keep in contact with the employees, who will also meet a couple of times a month to keep the group together.
Givens said he's on the lookout for a temporary location where Mr. Ed's can operate while the site at 2555 E. Isaacs Ave. is repaired.
Though details of the re-opened eatery are still in the works, a couple of major changes are inevitable, Givens said.
The Elvis statue that greeted diners at the doorway is not going to be salvageable, it turns out. The statue is too soot damaged for the owners to clean. Also, many of the car photos that graced the walls of the business were ruined by smoke damage and heat. Givens said Mr. Ed's may take on a more NASCAR-related theme.
But the food and the essence of the eatery -- which had still been a Sunday stop for the original "Mr. Ed" Ed Volkmann, who bought the business with his late wife, Norma, in the early 1970s and later renamed it -- will remain.
"The bottom line is everybody misses Mr. Ed's," Givens said. "I just can't tell you how much that touches my heart."
Fundraisers for employees at Mr. Ed's:
- Saturday , noon-6 p.m.: Children's Christmas Party hosted by Phi Beta Lambda at Walla Walla Community College, Conference Center, Room 185. Admission is $5 for children; adults are free. There will be crafts, stories, visits with Santa and more. Half of the proceeds will be donated to Mr. Ed's employees.
- Sunday, 5-8 p.m.: Log Inn Tavern, 116 Wellington Ave., spaghetti feed. Donations are accepted. All proceeds will go to Mr. Ed's employees.
- Wednesday, 6-8 p.m.: Barnaby's, 405 Wellington Ave., spaghetti feed. The cost is $6 per plate; all proceeds will be donated to Mr. Ed's employees.
- Friday, Dec. 18, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.: An open house at Sterling Savings Bank's downtown Walla Walla branch, 2 E. Main St. Nonperishable food items and gifts for children 1 to 15 will be accepted. For more details, call 522-2044.
Anyone interested in coordinating further efforts or who has information concerning other opportunities can contact Debbie Adamson at email@example.com.