Nearly two years has passed since a fire damaged Dearman's, a popular burger and soda shop in Baton Rouge. But if all goes according to plan, customers will be able to return to the restaurant within the next few weeks.
Manager Casey Evans said an official date has not been set, but "we're getting pretty close (to reopening)."
"We're knocking on the door," Evans said. "We're finishing up some cosmetic stuff and tidying up the rest of the place. It's all in its final stages here. I would think we open before the first of the year."
The aesthetics and feel of Dearman's will be the same. The bar has been extended a bit, and the grill has been moved for more efficient workflow. A few more tables have been added, and the restaurant will be able to serve around 120 guests. Another fryer has been added as well to serve more guests.
Other than those changes, customers can expect the same Dearman's goodness — burgers, fries, shakes and sandwiches in family-like, friendly environment.
"We will probably feature a few new menu items, but we're still discussing some of that," Evans said, mentioning a veggie burger and more salad options might be added to the menu in the future. "Really, it's going to be back to business as usual."
At the tail end of February 2016, Dearman's was heavily damaged by a fire. The cost of the damages? $500,000. After months of investigations, Evans said the cause of the fire was "still undetermined."
Adding to the uncertainty was the cancellation of Dearman's lease by Hill Properties, owners of the Bocage Village Shopping Center. Notice of the cancellation came less than a month after the fire. Dearman's had been a tenant of the shopping center for more than 58 years, and David Van Gelder has owned and operated the restaurant since 2007.
Even with that lease cancellation, Evans was confident Dearman's would reopen.
"Before the fire, we were busier than we had ever been," Evans said. "I don't think we decided we weren't going to open. If we weren't going to come back (to Bocage Village), we were going to open somewhere else."
However, by June 2016, a new lease had been put into place. Dearman's would stay put in its shopping center location at 7633 Jefferson Highway.
After the lease was signed, further delays came with permitting, cleanup, fixing roof damage, then back-to-back floods — one that affected the Capital City and surrounding areas, and another that affected Houston, where some equipment suppliers for Dearman's are located.
"It was just a nightmare," Evans said of the delays. "Literally, at every turn, there was some negative thing holding everything back. Now, we're finally getting there."
Through the past 19 months, the support for Dearman's to reopen has been overwhelming, Evans said. He gets goosebumps talking about customers' support for the business.
"That support was astronomical, touching, endearing," he said. "People would come and put handwritten signs on the window. It showed you how many people really cared."
Evans said he and the Dearman's staff will alert people when an opening date is set. He's expecting a rush of customers, too.
"I think it's going to be really busy," he said, laughing. "Just judging by people I encounter on the street and during day-to-day, there's a lot of interest. I guarantee, as soon as we do open, people will find out."