A look inside the Phillips Avenue Diner one month after the fire

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Don Anderson, president of WR Hospitality, the company which owns the Phillips Avenue Dinner, was in Rapid City when his phone rang on the night of June 5.

“The alarm system had gone off,” he says. Anderson would learn that that alarm was triggered not by an intruder, but by a fire.

Anderson says that to the best of his knowledge, the fire started on the south side of the building, near the electrical box. That box however was not the source of the fire, Anderson said. The electrical box was inspected and found not to be at fault, he said.

“The only thing that was mentioned to us is it could’ve even possibly been a cigarette that was outside the building — we don’t know.”

An official cause, however, is not yet known.

The fire itself did not spread far according to Anderson. It damaged the bathrooms and a walk-in freezer, both of which are at the south end of the building.

“Somehow the fire started in the wall there,” he says.

That section of the building is now gutted, a piece of plywood covering the hold the fire department cut into the wall, with the only features remaining being the bathroom flooring, piping and electrical and the metal studs of the building.

Video courtesy of Angela Kennecke

Those metal studs may be part of the reason the fire didn’t spread farther. “The diner’s made out of a lot of steel,” says Anderson. “There’s not much wood in that corner so the fire really went slow. It didn’t build up enough heat.”

The real problem, says Anderson, was elsewhere. “Smoke damage is what really has got this project on hold,” he says. “All the air conditioners were running and they sucked up the smoke — and all our duct work is lined with fiberglass or insulation, so all that had to be replaced.”

To replace all that, Anderson says they have to remove all the ceilings and all the duct work. “That itself was a big project.”

Anderson says he thinks it repairs will cost over $200,000. There are other costs that are harder to quantify.

“It’s peak season for us,” says Anderson. “Summertime is when all the tourists come downtown Sioux Falls. I mean this is peak season for us — patio season, indoor dining. It’s a big loss.”

One silver lining to this ordeal has been the support the community has shown the diner and its staff. “A lot of the diner staff is down at the All Day Café, and we’re asking them to wear their diner uniform so they can be recognized,” says Anderson.

WR Hospitality owns the All Day Cafe.

All Day Café isn’t the only place that diner employees have found work though. WR Hospitality owns several establishments in the state, and staff has found work at 22TEN Kitchen and Cocktails, as well as Buglin’ Bull all the way out in Custer.

There is also a clear desire from the community for the diner to reopen.

In the time that KELOLAND News was outside the diner late Wednesday morning, several people stopped by, asking if it was open or even attempting to walk inside. For those waiting for the open sign to turn on, Anderson gives a tentative date: “We’re hoping for August 18, give or take a week.”

While customers are surely excited, Anderson says staff are as well.

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