LACONIA— "We're grateful to be back," said Ted Roy, who with his wife Jen owns and operates the Water Street Cafe, which reopened last week, four months after an early morning fire destroyed the kitchen and damaged the dining areas. "We missed our customers and they missed us."
Taking a break during a busy lunch hour yesterday, Roy quickly passed over the three days in March when fire first struck his apartment building on Gilford Avenue and then the restaurant at the corner of Fair Street and Water Street. "It was like nothing you could ever imagine," he said. "You ask yourself what's going on here?"
Although the flames were largely confined to the kitchen, Roy said that the smoke reached into every corner of the building. "We had two months of smoke damage alone," he remarked. "We took 90-percent of the restaurant down to the studs and replaced the pine ceiling and sheet rock."
"The support we got from other local businesses, including restaurants, was just amazing," Roy said. "People on the street kept asking us 'when are you going open? When are you going to open?'"
Roy said that the renovation provided an opportunity to make a few small changes. The counter was shrunk and an elevated booth was added to the smaller of the two dining rooms. A new door was fitted leading to outdoor seating.
The Roys also took the opportunity to refine the dinner menu. "It is geared to casual yet sophisticated," Roy said, "with new wines and bottled beers." He explained that "people come here because they know what to expect. It's hard to change something that's worked so well for so long," he continued. "We've stuck to our roots by trying to keep the old favorites and add some new items."
Roy said that only two employees on hand when the restaurant burned have returned. "We're very fortunate to have found good people, very professional and eager to learn."
Although disappointed to have lost most of the busiest season, the Roys are not looking back. "I look at it as a summer vacation and now we're back to work. Most of of all we're getting back to normalcy in our life," he said.
The Roys have owned the business since 1988, when they acquired LaFlamme's, a small coffee shop, which traced its origins to a downtown bakery that opened in the 1920s. With urban renewal in the 1970s , the business moved to Water Street. In 1992, the Roys rebuilt and reopened as the Water Street Cafe.
On August 27, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. the Roys will host Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours and mark the reopening with a ribbon cutting. Meanwhile, Roy said that he is planning a New Year's Eve party, "2014 has got to better than 2013," he said.