Rising up from the ashes
Being a volunteer fire fighter is not easy especially if you are paged at 1:30 a.m. to respond to a fire at your own business.
That is exactly what happened to Kiester’s Kee Kafe owners Jerry and Michele Alphs.
“That was a heck of a wake up call,” Michele Alphs says. “It was an electrical fire. The previous owner covered up some old panelling and we didn’t even know there were wires and outlets behind the back wall.”
The Alphs purchased what used to be the former Brickhouse Pizza building in the spring of 2013, did all the cleanup and remodeling themselves, opened their doors and had to repeat the entire process only two months later because of the fire.
“Two months into the business, our business partners had wanted out, so we were in the process of buying out their portion and then we had the electrical fire at the end of August,” Alphs explains.
Because of the damage to the building, the Alphs had to gut the entire building down to the brick walls.
“It was a good thing because we found out there was no insulation in the building,” she says. “We re-wired everything in the kitchen and the dining area. We also put insulation in the ceiling and have noticed a significant decrease in our heating and cooling bill.”
Earlier photographs of the cafe showed maple paneling on the interior and the service counter on the south side was also constructed of maple.
The Alphs were able to salvage some of the original maple paneling during the reconstruction.
“Since there was smoke damage everywhere, we tore apart everything and found the original paneling under the Sheetrock,” Alphs says. “We knew we had to save it and preserve some of the building’s history. The front door is also the original 1941 door. Two panes of glass were cracked from the heat of the fire and we replaced them for $100 each.”
Before the fire, the cafe had four booths, according to Alphs, but they had to get rid of them because they started to mold.
“It actually gave us more room,” she says. “It made room for more seating. We went from having 44 seats to 66 seats.”
The fire itself was contained to the kitchen wall and up into the rafters, according to Alphs.
“Because the building was brick, it was essentially a large oven in the restaurant during the fire.” Alphs explained. “Another 20 to 30 minutes and the fire would have burst through the rafters and burned the entire building down.”
The alarm system/burglary alarm tipped off the sheriff’s department and they sent two deputies to investigate, she says.
“My initial reaction was of shock. It has been a dream of mine since I graduated high school to open a restaurant,” Alphs says. “The fire was put out right away. The process of checking out the walls and the rest of the building for hot spots took about two to three hours.”
The insurance adjuster arrived less than 12 hours after the fire, Alphs says.
“We started to rebuild in mid October because there were some legal issues to take care of,” she explained. “We reopened on May 17, about a year after we opened the first time around.”
According to Alphs, it was estimated to be over $100,000 for the entire remodeling project.
“We live in a great community which is very supportive,” Alphs says. “My support system was unbelievable.”
During Kiester Days, Kee Kafe had its grand reopening and gave away gift certificates and featured some pulled pork sandwiches.
“My husband’s sandwiches were such a hit that we decided to start featuring it on Saturdays now,” Alphs adds.
Also, a relatively new idea for the cafe is to provide healthier meals for customers. In order to accommodate the healthier choices, the cafe recently started “wellness Wednesdays,” introducing options such as salads.
According to Alphs, the remodel would not have been possible without her support group, consisting of her family and Kiester locals.
Between Jerry and Michele, the two have seven children: Brandon, 31; Ashley, 26; Jordan, 24; Preston 23; Sam, 21; Alex, 19; and Nic, 16.
“They have all been involved in one way or the other with the original remodeling and the reopening process,” she explained. “It was a horrible incident, but we are back and ready to serve anyone who walks through our door.”