When a fire blazed in downtown Rock Island in the early morning hours of September 27, it damaged and destroyed eight buildings, including homes and businesses. But fire didn’t kill the spirit of Jon Keim, the owner of Huckleberry’s Pizza. He has owned the downtown Rock Island business for more than 23 years and lived in a loft above the business. While flames and smoke spread, he and his girlfriend fled their home safely and waited to assess the damage.
Up in flames
“We watched it go from one building to the next,” he says. “We’re lucky the fire didn’t take down the whole block, thanks to the work of the local firefighters.” The fire didn’t reach Jon’s buildings, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a grave impact. The fire department’s goal was to stop the spread of the fire and save as many buildings on the block as possible. Because the buildings, most over 100 years old, are built so closely together, the fire could spread even more quickly between them. And the loss of one building could also impact the structural stability of those around it. Once he had the okay to enter the building, he asked himself, what’s next? “The building was still full of smoke,” he remembers. “I couldn’t see anything.”
The smoke clears
Huckleberry’s consisted of two buildings and both were impacted. The main restaurant was full of smoke and water damage in the basement from fire hoses and broken pipes. The party room and above loft were also impacted, including concerns about structural stability after the building had to be leveled next door. “I knew I had to get the experts in here right away,” he says. The first consideration was whether the buildings could even be restored. Once it was decided that restoration was possible, the team at Werner Restoration got to work. For the next several months, Werner pumped water out of the basement, removed and cleaned all the furniture and equipment, scrubbed all surfaces and restored the business to working order. This even included scrubbing every vintage brick that lined the walls. After four months of work, the main restaurant was back in business.
All about community
When the business reopened in February, the main restaurant and outdoor sidewalk café were soon filled with customers – regulars and newcomers. The party room and loft are still closed to the public, but Jon is pleased with the progress and proud of what the business means to the community. “I keep hearing about what Huckleberry’s means to people and their families,” he remembers. “People come here on their first dates, rehearsal dinners, baby showers and family dinners. This business is all about relationships.” And when Jon considered whether to start again somewhere else, he says downtown Rock Island was where he wanted to stay. “I like the feeling of community,” he explains of the downtown neighborhood. “The city and the people were very supportive.” As for what’s next, Jon is looking ahead to bigger and better dreams for the business. “We got hit pretty hard,” Jon says. “But we have looked at what good can come out of this – to make Huckleberry’s better than it was.”
The bottom line
Disasters can happen quickly and without warning. Learn more about fire prevention and how Werner can help get you back in business after a fire.