POMONA — When she heard about Saturday's disastrous fire at a longtime Pinckneyville restaurant, Cindy Royster said she remembered all over again the devastation she felt on Feb. 1, when her own brewery-restaurant burned to the ground.
Royster said that news, coupled with what she, her husband and business partner are still dealing with as they rebuild their own business, Abbey Ridge Brewery and Tap Room, made the holidays a bit harder to deal with.
POMONA — Madison Shanahan drove up to Abbey Ridge Brewery at 1:15 a.m. Wednesday morning to see her family’s business completely consumed by fire.
On Christmases prior, their brewery would be filled with the smiles and friendship of friends, family and customers who were more likely family, she and co-owner Terri Addison said.
She and her crew are looking forward to re-opening Abbey Ridge, hopefully sometime in summer 2018.
Right now, owners, family members and friends are busily rebuilding the place, without benefit of a contractor — by hand.
It's more intimate that way, designed to have the feel for the place that they want, Cindy Royster said. They can change a detail at any time, without having to consult a contractor to make changes to plans.
It's the same way they built the first Abbey Ridge, she said.
"That's the way we roll," Cindy Royster said.
The first Abbey Ridge
Abbey Ridge Brewery and Tap Room was just three years old, having been completed in that painstakingly sweat-invested way, she said.
The idea was birthed with Addison, who was looking for something fun to do in retirement. Addison was working to get the placement properly done when she connected with the Roysters. She didn't know them beforehand, but wound up joining forces with them in the business venture.
They started as a brewery, along the way deciding to offer a hamburger or two. A menu developed, giving rise to the restaurant, they said.
People began to seek them out as their business grew.
The day before the fire, Jan. 31, the brewery-restaurant would have been closed, but the partners opened it that evening for a mustache event, a private affair hosted by the law-enforcement community.
After the event ended, the Roysters went home.
Addison was visiting her son in San Francisco. That's where a friend of Addison's telephoned her at 12:50 a.m. to say there was a fire at the brewery.
Addison, in turn, telephoned Phil and Cindy, who were in bed.
When the Roysters arrived at Abbey Ridge, the building was fully engulfed in fire.
On Thursday afternoon, the women sat at a table in the building built as their new office, sharing their experience from this year.
"These were the pictures I got …,"Addison began, tears forming in her eyes as she showed bright photos of fire outlining a skeletal outline on her cell phone.
The pictures came from a firefighter who snapped them at the scene, she said. Cindy said she still can't look at any of the pictures.
In the end, their 3-year-old building and business were a complete loss, as the fire destroyed the business and everything inside, while also severely undermining its concrete foundation.
Also destroyed were mementos like the dozen or so ceramic German beer steins that once belonged to Addison's grandfather and the 100-year-old table that once belonged to Cindy's grandmother, an object that had a 1900 penny embedded in one of its legs.
They said their insurance adjuster said the fire was electrical in nature.
They have their suspicions, though, noting that the restaurant-brewery was broken into the night before the fire. Someone had broken glass in the front door to enter the building.
In the fire's rubbish, they discovered the damaged replacement cash register and the unlocked dead bolt.
Lots of hard work
"We worked really hard," Cindy Royster said, "and I think that was the other thing, too … anybody who knew us knew how hard we worked, how hard our kids worked, how hard our parents worked …"
They're at the hard work again, Phil Royster using the same construction skills he gained as a 16-year-old to rebuild their dream. Professionals are completing the electrical, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and plumbing work.
Cindy Royster and Addison note that Phil traveled to Washington state to help bring back the fermenters and other brewing equipment that has since been installed in the new brewery they built across the road and up the hill from the old brewery-restaurant.
They expect the brewery to open about 45 to 60 days before the rebuilt restaurant. They point out the observation windows above the brewery floor, where guests can watch the production.
They are still awestruck by the response of friends, businessowners and customers who might have dined, drunk or celebrated at the first Abbey Ridge. Some businesses and groups hosted fundraisers to help raise money for the employees who were suddenly out of a job.
"The community support and the business support was unbelievable," Phil Royster said. "It was overwhelming."
"As bad as that (fire) was, it was eye-opening and warming to know that that many people" cared, Cindy Royster said.
Coming up on a year, where will they be?
"Probably in the parking lot, crying," Cindy Royster said.
"They'll both be crying," Phil Royster said of his partners.
But the situation has shown them that there is still something that evokes smiles.
"We found the good in something that was really bad," Cindy Royster said. "We understand that even through tragedy there is something good."