The Willow Restaurant in Washington C.H. is reopening Friday at 11 a.m. after it was forced to close due to a structure fire last July.
The restaurant, which initially opened 10 years ago and is located at 203 Glenn Ave., has had several updates and renovations done. According to co-owners Denny and Kelly Smith, the fire caused smoke and water damage to the dining area and both bathrooms while effectively destroying the rest of the restaurant and the ceiling.
In the months that the restaurant has been closed, the bathrooms have been remodeled, the ceiling re-done, the kitchen entirely remodeled with all new appliances, and the dining room updated.
Denny explained that as previous general contractors, the city building department allowed himself and his brother, Dusty Smith, to handle the design and construction of the project. At the time, many qualified contractors were occupied elsewhere, especially with construction projects in Dayton relating to destruction caused by tornadoes last year.
The Smiths were able to assist some of their employees by being able to hire approximately six of them to help with the construction and remodeling. Between the brothers and the staff, they were able to finish the project.
“They didn’t have to go out and find other jobs. They didn’t have to depend on unemployment,” said Denny. “They were able to maintain their livelihoods by having income.”
In efforts to help fill the gap in financing for the various employees following the fire, an employee relief fund had been set up by local radio personality Harry Wright and the local radio station.
“It was great,” said Kelly. “Everybody was so generous.”
Customers heading to The Willow will first arrive at a new glass-enclosed waiting area created by Gary Lyons, owner of The Window Man. Within the new area is extra seating. Once a table is ready, customers will then pass through the main entryway beside a willow sculpture hanging on the wall.
The sculpture had at one point been commissioned to a local artist by a couple after they gained inspiration from a small tree kept in the restaurant that lights up — a lit tree that several customers like to view, according to Denny. Following the wife’s passing, it was decided to give the tree to The Willow.
Following the entryway, customers will walk over The Willow logo stained into the newly-refurbished concrete floor.
The previous floor in the dining room sustained water damage from the fire. That floor was removed and local business, Concrete Contracting Solutions, assisted with the grinding to “expose the aggregate underneath” and to allow it to have a shine. Denny explained that the new floor will be easier to maintain and clean.
“You can see the rock inside it. There’s rock and sand in concrete,” said Denny. “It lightens up the place.”
The ceiling is what Kelly identified as her favorite addition to the restaurant. The ceiling that can now be seen in the dining area, along with some updated furniture, is unfinished tin with stamped designs.
This ceiling, according to Denny, was installed by Dusty. Although the ceiling was completed in approximately a week, with each piece of the tin being a 24-inch square, lining up the pieces proved challenging and the project had to be restarted at one point.
“It complements what we do, the atmosphere we try to provide,” explained Denny. “We’re not something new or fancy, we’re more kind-of old-school.”
To go along with the tin ceiling, Weller’s Plumbing and Heating was able to aesthetically tie in the duct work they did for the building.
New doors can be seen leading to the kitchen and both bathrooms with The Willow logo stained into glass panels. Those doors were made by local business Chappell Door.
An original mural of a willow tree painted on one of the dining room walls by previous local Tonya Crawford was able to be saved with a few touch-ups. Also saved were several photographs taken by local Brad Smith when the restaurant first opened.
In order to remodel, furniture that was still usable needed to be stored somewhere. That storage came in the form of two trailers. One was a semi-trailer from the owner of Bumpus Trucking, Chip Bumpus, while the other was a personal trailer lent to The Willow by Butch and Dirk Witherspoon from the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, according to Denny.
Other local individuals and businesses the Smiths recognized for all their help included Clinton Electrical & Plumbing Supply, Tim Skaggs and his crew at Home Depot, Terry Campbell for exterior concrete work, and Tony’s Welding & Fabrication.
“It’s a joint effort,” said Denny.
As the restaurant reopens, the majority of dishes previously on the menu will remain the same and catering will continue to be offered as it has been since before The Willow was created.
According to Denny, they strive to make good, home-cooked meals for their customers, and approximately 90 percent of their food is now homemade, including hand-cut steaks, which is one of the most popular dishes, followed by their homemade pies.
One of the oldest dishes they serve however, is the chicken and noodles as it is his grandmother’s recipe. Denny explained that he first began cooking as a child when his mother had to work. He learned how to cook by watching his grandmother teach his mother.
Denny spoke of customers who would come in for hours just to have conversation and a meal, along with customers that have been with them since the beginning.
“It’s kind of like a little family around here,” he said.
Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @JennMWoods.