Two sisters face rebuilding their 27-year-old business from the ground up after a devastating fire over the weekend.
Mildred Shaw and Betty Harlow, owners of Betty and Mildred’s Southern Restaurant on West Main Street, spent the majority of Monday and Tuesday sitting at a patio table outside the burned shell of their restaurant, greeting customers and mourning their loss.
“All our customers have been here all day,” Shaw said Monday afternoon. “(They’re) just like our family. We’ve hugged and cried all day.”
The Glasgow Fire Department received a call a little after 2 a.m. Sunday from passerby Ben Wyatt, who said he saw smoke and flames coming from the roof of Southern Restaurant. The fire originated in the attic above the kitchen area of the restaurant.
“This morning, upon investigation, it appears that we had an attic fan that had wiring that was compromised in some way and there was an electrical fire in them,” said Deputy State Fire Marshal Todd Price, who investigated the fire on Tuesday.
Price estimated the fire had been burning for up to an hour and a half before firefighters arrived on scene, and it was fed by the attic fans that continued to blow air after the fire started. The Glasgow Fire Department firefighters arrived at about 2:20 a.m., and during the two and a half hours of controlling the fire they were assisted by East Barren, South Barren and Haywood volunteer fire departments, along with the Glasgow Police Department, Barren County Sheriff’s Office, Barren-Metcalfe Emergency Medical Service, Glasgow Electric Plant Board, Glasgow Water Company, Big Meadow Oil, the Barren County Office of Emergency Management and the Salvation Army.
Glasgow Fire Chief Bobby Bunnell said he released his on-duty firefighters almost six hours after they arrived. One truck remained on scene as a precaution.
“I do want to commend the firefighters who were on scene and also the assistance we received from our county firefighters working together to control and extinguish the fire,” Bunnell said. “To me, that’s as important as anything, because we are working together to protect the public.”
Shaw and Harlow said all the firefighters did a terrific job, and they were thankful to Bunnell and all those who helped, as well as Wyatt for calling in the fire. The sisters arrived on the scene while the fire was still burning, and Shaw said it was difficult to watch what was happening.
“I’ve never seen a fire like that. There was just so much fire,” she said. “It was just unreal, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Bunnell said he knew it was a very hot burning fire because of the way the metal beams in the roof twisted from the heat, and Price said it was the still-operating attic fans that made the fire a “total loss.”
“There’s nothing salvageable in here,” Price said. He estimated the cost of damages would total approximately $1.1 million.
Cheryl Button, owner of the Lighting and Bath Shop adjacent to Betty and Mildred’s, also suffered heavy damages even though the fire did not enter her store. She expects her store to be a total loss as well.
“We’ve got a lot of water and smoke and heat damage,” said Button, who has been renting her store space from Shaw and Harlow since 1992.
There is no way to determine exactly what happened, according to Price, but it could have started with an incident months ago where lightning struck or someone stepped on a wire in the attic and caused it to scrape across a two-by-four board. Shaw said they are simply glad no one was hurt.
“We just have to get everything together and figure out where we’re going to go,” she said.
Shaw and Harlow said they won’t be able to decide for sure if they’re going to rebuild on that land until they find out the results of their insurance company investigation, but they are already discussing the benefits of a smaller building with the addition of a drive-thru.
“Our customers don’t give up on us so we will be back,” Shaw said.
Shaw and Harlow opened Betty and Mildred’s Southern Restaurant in October of 1984, in a smaller location across the street. They moved to their current lot at 1201 West Main St. four years later.
The sisters run the restaurant by themselves with Shaw’s daughter Julie as the cook. They serve homemade southern food such as meatloaf and biscuits from scratch, and they said they know nearly all of their customers by name and often know their order before they say it. As they spent the Monday and Tuesday following the fire sitting at the patio table they called their “new cafe,” customers frequently stopped by to talk or honked their horns and waved as they drove by.
“We don’t know what to do with ourselves now,” Shaw said.