RUSSELLVILLE, Ark – A restaurant that began serving its community at a time when we were coming out of a world war caught fire Tuesday morning. Now its future is uncertain.
Over the last 80 years, The Old South Restaurant has been a staple in the Russellville community. Zach Summitt and his father took over nine years ago, he said the love of the place from the community made them want to become owners.
“We saw potential and we could tell everybody wanted to come here, they just needed a reason to come,” Summitt said.
However, on Tuesday, officials with the Russellville Fire Department said they received a call at 12:30 a.m. from someone who passed by the restaurant and saw smoke. Officials said once they arrived on scene the fire had already started, and it was coming mostly from the front and back of the business.
Officials with the department also say with the assistance of 14 firefighters they were able to get it under control after four hours and left the scene around 10 a.m.
Summitt said barely anything was saved inside the restaurant and he is in shock about how bad everything looks. He says part of the pain is knowing how much it meant to the community.
“The restaurant was built in 1947, it’s been through several owners, but the building has stayed the same and the name has stayed the same,” he said. “People have grown up here, some of their parents ate on the way from the hospital after the baby was born they stopped and ate in the Old South.”
Officials with the fire department said the cause of the fire is still to be determined.
“We’re trying to figure out if they can restore our camera system to see what happened,” Summitt said.
He said he hasn’t had time to think about himself as most of his thoughts are about his employees.
“We’re still just trying to get through the day right now as far as next stops, but the Russ Bus is trying to raise money for our employees,” Summitt said. “We have about 50 employees with us who have no place to work.”
One of the employees is waitress Juliette Bowden who has worked at the restaurant for 5 years. She said she received a call about the fire and couldn’t believe it.
“We could see the smoke from miles away,” Bowden added. “It felt like a piece of me was taken.”
Bowden said for her it was more than just a job.
“I had so many customers that helped me throughout the way and workers they built me up and they were here for my entire adult life and made me who I am,” Bowden said.
She also said she has had many memories in the restaurant.
“My grandma worked here, my mom worked here, I remember as a kid playing in the big booth up front,” Bowden said.
She said the restaurant was a staple in the community and she’s heartbroken.
“This restaurant holds dear to so many people and it’s just gone within one night and there’s nothing we can do,” Bowden said.
Despite everything that has happened to the restaurant, Summitt pointed out that its spirit and resilience is shown by the sign that is above the business that’s still standing. He said as he watched fire crews work to tame the fire, his eyes kept going to the sign and is grateful it’s still there.
Summitt also said he is not sure about the future of the restaurant but is thankful for the community.
“We’re just trying to get through today (Tuesday) and see what tomorrow brings and there’s many options. We may rebuild it, we may change locations,” Summitt said.