Fire Burns Down Nebraska Town’s Only Restaurant

February 28, 2011

On the Davenport, Neb., street corner where Lucille Henry’s Base Hit restaurant so recently stood, blue sky and a crumpled beer can can’t do much to fill the emptiness over the three wooden booths a farmer clean-up crew managed to salvage from a Feb. 1 fire.

A few blocks away, Henry, 67, keeps her eyes mostly on her kitchen table as she describes her loss – and the town’s loss of its only eating establishment.

She’s picking up coins, one at a time, even pennies, and using a rag and solvent to make these refugees from the tip jar shine again.

“God has his way of making you retire, whether you want to or not,” she said.

“I’m thankful nobody got hurt and that the firemen got it stopped before it got in the buildings on the other side. It could have been a lot worse than it was.”

Farmer Jerry Brase was among those who finished the two-day job of clearing away the rubble across the street from the Frontier Bank.

“I had a vision of this sitting here five years as an eyesore,” Brase said.

It was a cold and windy night when somebody from an adjoining apartment smelled the smoke from the blaze still hidden in the attic area of the Base Hit.

As about a dozen Davenport firefighters saw what they had on their hands, they called for help from their counterparts at Carleton and Edgar.

But the trouble that Henry believes started with the gas stove she’d turned off in her office before closing – and with piles of paper receipts she didn’t know about in the attic from when the building was a service station – was too much to contain.

And so now, wearing her black Davenport T-shirt with the yellow smiley face, she rubs painstakingly and thoughtfully at pocket change and shakes her head at the idea of starting over in the food business.

“I just know it’s not feasible at my age,” said the woman who will continue to operate Lucille’s Beauty Shop.

Meanwhile, her former customers try not to think about the Sunday buffet and the Tuesday special.

Davenport’s 300 citizens live 100 miles southwest of Lincoln, 50 miles south of York and 50 miles southeast of Hastings. In other words, they live a long way from the myriad eating options available in more populated places.

In Thayer County, “We were probably the last place to peel our own potatoes,” Henry said. “I made my own gravy, homemade soup.”

As she speaks, 19-year-old Madison Martin, a single mom and former Base Hit waitress, bustles about in the next room with a dust rag and wonders where she can find another job in the area.

Her mother, Kelly Bandt, also left jobless by the fire, is wondering the same thing, Martin said.

Small towns and small-town people have a way of pulling themselves together at times like these, and there’s an early hint of that at the bank’s meeting room in the fire’s aftermath.

“We make a pot of decaf and a pot of regular coffee,” said bank vice president Carol Pearson. “And there’s a sign on the door and everybody’s welcome.”

Pearson moves out from behind the counter and into the sunlit lobby to talk about Davenport’s dilemma. She’s followed by tellers Lori Schroeder and Dixie Drohman.

Everybody sits down, almost as if this subject would be too much to contemplate standing up.

“We’re hoping someone will be willing to invest in a new business,” Pearson said.

The local community foundation might try to help.

It’s a prosperous time for farmers, but there are fewer farmers and fewer farm families to support towns.

Drohman speaks fondly of the Sunday buffet and more uncertainly of another matter: Ten miles away in the even smaller town of Oak, where she lives, the bar-saloon is for sale, she said.

Schroeder joins in, wishing that Davenport’s days without a menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner will be few. But she shakes her head when she’s asked if she’d answer the call.

“I’ve been in the restaurant business before,” she said. “It was fun, but time-consuming.”

As the clock ticks toward noon, the three bank employees think about the lunch they had to bring from home or lunch makings they might be able to get from the town’s one and only grocery store.

As they get back behind the counter, bank and frequent Base Hit customer Kirk Kennel, a bachelor, laments his lack of cooking skills. But Kennel is rejoicing over the fact that the big round table from the restaurant was recovered intact.

“A lot of stories got passed over that table,” Kennel said. “Before you knew it, seven or eight people would be there, talking about what was going on with their day.”

Finding a new home in Davenport for the big table might seem a tall order.

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.