Bryan Dayton and Steve Redzikowski of Oak at Fourteenth reflect on their one-year milestone following a fire that left the restaurant in ashes
Lori Midson Bryan Dayton and Steve Redzikowski celebrate their comeback from a devestating fire.
On March 9, 2011, Steve Redzikowski, co-owner and chef of Oak at Fourteenth, stood on the street in disbelief. The restaurant that he and his partner, Bryan Dayton, had opened four months prior in Boulder, was smoldering, the thick surges of smoke emblazoning the downtown Boulder skyline. It would take nearly nine months -- and over 1 million dollars -- to resurrect it from the ashes.
"I remember being across the street and seeing the smoke, but no physical fire, and then the sprinklers came on, and I knew we were in trouble," recalls Redzikowski. And when the firefighters climbed to the roof, clad with chainsaws, he realized that "trouble" was an understatement.
Still, both he and Dayton, who also directs the inspiring wine, beer, cocktail and housemade soda program at Oak, were optimistic that the fire, which began in the restaurant's hood system, would sideline them for just a few weeks, maybe a month. They waited, patiently, for answers, waited patiently to get back into the open kitchen, which is stroked by a wood-fired oven. But little did they know that they'd have to rebuild Oak from the ground up. "Everything had to be replaced, with the exception of the beams. We had no idea we were going to have to have to rip everything out, and it was pretty much starting from scratch, much like opening a new restaurant," says Redzikowski. The saving grace, he adds, was the fact that he had business interruption insurance, which paid his and Dayton's employees their salary averages. "Because of that, we were able to retain about 85 percent of our employees, which was tremendous," he says.
But Redzikowski admits that he went through a period of depression. "For the first four months, I was just in shock, and I definitely went through a dark period. I was completely lost...I'd never not worked," he says. But as he and Dayton continued to spend their days with insurance companies, they began to harbor hope. "Once we were able to see that we could make a comeback, we started concentrating on the tweaks we could make to become more efficient the second time around, but when we reopened, it was still a bit unreal," he admits, so much so that "I nearly cried in front of my cooks." Even now, he says, "it's a bit of a blur."
He does, however, recall a few things that stuck in his brain while he and Dayton were rebuilding: "You can't run frisee on a menu in Boulder, because people think it's too scratchy; you can put just about everything else on the menu, just as long as the verbiage is written the right way; and don't do your take on the classic and call it by its classic name -- biscuits and gravy, for example -- because if it's not the classic, people will call you out on it."