Landmark Indiana Restaurant’s Owner Expects to Reopen

June 27, 2012

An owner of a landmark restaurant in eastern Indiana expects it to reopen after the building was badly damaged in a weekend fire.

The fire in downtown Hagerstown wrecked much of the roof and upper floor of Willie & Red’s restaurant but firefighters were able to prevent much damage to the adjoining building housing the town’s museum and an antiques store.

The restaurant was known as Welliver’s Smorgasbord for 60 years until new owners took it over in 2010.

Co-owner Penny Wickes told the Palladium-Item that she’ll know more about a timeline for reopening after inspectors and insurance adjustors check out the building.

“We will be back,” she said Sunday.

A professional cleaning crew began working at the restaurant hours after the Saturday afternoon blaze in the town about 50 miles east of Indianapolis, Wickes said.

Dozens for firefighters from throughout Wayne County and neighboring Fayette and Henry counties responded to the fire that was reported after the restaurant’s power went out and workers smelled smoke about 30 minutes before it was to open for dinner.

The fire broke windows and led to some smoke and water damage in the adjoining building that includes the Hagerstown Museum & Arts Place, but museum director Tom Butters praised the work of firefighters for saving its collection, including memorabilia from early automotive history.

“It was moving to find all these guys pulling together,” Butters said. “It gives me a lump in my throat to think of it.”

Officials didn’t immediately determine the fire’s cause.

Wickes and her husband, Mike, took over the Welliver’s building and reopened it about nine months after it was closed because its previous owners ran into tax debt troubles.

Wayne County Commissioner Denny Burns said he believed the town would rally around the Wickes as they try to bounce back from the fire.

“Mike and Penny Wickes put a lot of time and money into that restaurant and successfully restored it to the fabulous smorgasbord that it once was,” Burns said.

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