Windows at 24 Vista Way were boarded up. The air still smelled of smoke hours later. The reader board outside read “Closed due to fire.”
Some customers and family friends showed up to check on staff and owners Wednesday.
“When you find something so comforting, you want to come back,” said Matt Gunn, a Kennewick resident and regular at Hill’s Restaurant and Lounge.
Gunn said he visits the restaurant two to three times a week for breakfast, BLTs and iced teas. He showed up Wednesday to offer moral support.
Firefighters were called around midnight after reports of flames and smoke in the dining area.
Benton Fire District 1 and the Pasco and Richland fire departments helped the Kennewick Fire Department flight the blaze. No one was inside at the time.
Fire crews saw most of the fire near a deep fryer in the kitchen, said Battalion Chief Kevin Crowley.
Initial investigations show the blaze started in the kitchen though it’s not clear how, said fire inspector Brian Ellis. He said the building appears intact but the kitchen and interior will need major work.
“I told them I wanted to be there when the grand opening arrived,” Ellis said.
When you find something so comforting, you want to come back.
Matt Gunn, customer
Earlier, owner Nancy Galstad said she didn’t know when they could reopen the business, which employs about 19 servers, hostesses and bartenders.
Roger Pearson, Galstad’s boyfriend, who helps with maintenance and bookkeeping, confirmed they have full insurance coverage.
He hopes they can get Hill’s back up and running at the same spot as soon as possible.
“We’re hoping we’ll be right where we’re at,” Pearson said.
Galstad bought the restaurant from Tom and Ronna Hill about two decades ago. She described the couple as awesome, good people with a vivacious attitude.
The Hills first opened the restaurant in 1962 in what is now the Columbia Center mall area. It moved to its current location, formerly Max’s Broiler, in the early 1990s.
On Wednesday, through moments of doubt and recovery, Galstad had an encouraging message for Kennewick residents.
“Our lady made it through with no damage,” she said, referring to a red velvet painting in the bar side of the building.
Tom Hill first traded a washing machine for the portrait.
Many patrons, especially new 21-year-olds, love taking photos with the picture, Galstad said.
We’re hoping we’ll be right where we’re at.
Most staff found out about the fire early in the morning, texting each other back and forth before showing up later, said bartender Tara Didier of Kennewick. She’s worked there for about four years.
“It looks horrid in there,” she said, describing a 4-foot hole in the ceiling.
Didier was optimistic, recalling a similar event some of her friends went through in Pasco when the Hut Restaurant & Lounge burned in summer 1999. The original building couldn’t be salvaged, but they made plans to reopen.
“We’ve all got a job to come back to,” Didier said. “I told (Galstad) don’t worry about us, we’ll be OK.”
Gunn said he will continue to help the owner and staff in any way he can.
“This is a forever thing,” he said.