Sad news to report today in the world of bbq. Holy Smokes bbq restaurant of Hatfield, MA burned down. Here's the story as told in The Republican
Hatfield eaterie destroyed
Friday, June 22, 2007
By FRED CONTRADA
HATFIELD - With their restaurant in ruins a few yards away, the owners and employees of Holy Smokes BBQ and Whole Hog House sat around a picnic table yesterday afternoon, eating comfort food and trying to come to grips with the fire that turned their world into charcoal hours earlier.
The landmark restaurant on Route 5 was the site of a Lutheran church built in 1889. Owners Louis and Leslie Ekus bought the building in 2003 and turned it into a popular barbecue joint that developed a clientele of true believers in its wood-smoked dishes. For customer seating, they used the church pews. The original pulpit was the wait station.
All of that lay smoldering yesterday following a fire that started in the early hours of the morning. The Hatfield Fire Department was on the scene shortly after state police were alerted at 3:30 a.m.
Fire Chief William A. Belden said the roof burst into flames within minutes of their arrival. In addition to the 18 Hatfield firefighters who responded, personnel and equipment from Northampton, Whately, South Deerfield and Deerfield provided mutual aid, Belden said.
Although the fire was contained within 45 minutes, Belden said the building was nearly a total loss. The roof had caved in and some of the remaining walls would have to come down, he said. Firefighters had yet to explore the basement, which housed most of the kitchen equipment.
Lou Ekus said he was told that the fire did not originate at either the restaurant's meat smoker or its oven, the two obvious hot spots. Arson investigators and insurance adjusters were combing through the rubble yesterday afternoon. Belden said the cause of the fire is under investigation.
At a picnic table alongside Route 5, a dozen or so employees snacked on food delivered by Claudio C. Guerra from his Northampton restaurant Spoleto Express.
"This is our funeral pyre," said Claire M. Allard, who worked as a waitress at Holy Smokes.
Allard said customers had been stopping by all morning to offer support. One left a ceramic pig with wings that resembles the restaurant's mascot. Lou Ekus said the flying pig played on a heaven-and-hell theme at the former church.
The Ekuses, who live in Montague, had been looking to open a barbecue restaurant for more than a decade before locating in Hatfield.
"When we saw this place, we fell in love with it," Ekus said.
Although Holy Smokes had a strong local following, repeat customers came from as far away as Canada, according to Ekus.
"We've had tons of nice customers," he said. "It's not just a restaurant that burns down. It's a whole community that gets affected."
Ekus said he was especially worried about his 17 employees.
"Everyone who works at the restaurant automatically becomes family," he said.
Among those who stopped by the site yesterday were fellow restaurateurs Guerra and Daniel Yacuzzo, who owns Eastside Grill. In 2000, the Paradise City Tavern, one of Guerra's businesses, burned to the ground in downtown Northampton. Guerra said he knows how Ekus feels.
"It's a huge learning curve to go through that process," he said. "The worst thing is that you put all your heart and effort into it. It's like your baby."
Guerra, who dined several times at Holy Smokes, summed up the fare as "awesome." He believes Ekus will weather the tragedy.
"He's that kind of guy," he said. "He rolls with the punches."
Staff writer Mary Ellen Lowney contributed to this report.