Steve Redzikowski, chef at Boulder’s Oak at Fourteenth, was on his way to work on March 9 when he received the news that his restaurant was on fire.
Oak had only opened about four months prior. Redzikowski and his partners, Bryan Dayton and Annie Polk, worked on a large part of the development of the restaurant themselves. He had been looking forward to preparing a whole fresh pig that had come in that morning for a pig roast the following weekend. So what the heck had just happened?
Redzikowski arrived at the scene to find little visual evidence of a problem; the building, upon first sight, seemed to be unscathed. As he would find out later, the fire — which started somewhere in the hood exhaust — moved up through the crawl space area and then to the roof.
“I didn’t realize it was going to be that large of a scale of a fire,” Redzikowski says.
Having worked in the restaurant business for 15 years, Redzikowski has seen a few hood fires, none of which, he says, amounted to anything too serious. When he saw firefighters climbing to Oak’s roof with chainsaws to cut an opening for the blaze, he knew this was something a bit bigger than he had witnessed before.
The second floor received most of the fire damage, but the restaurant below was largely ruined by water from the sprinkler system. The exact cause of the fire is still undetermined.
“It took maybe four or five days to kick in,” Redzikowski says. “I just couldn’t believe what had happened.”
Polk, the general manager at Oak, says the restaurant is currently undergoing deconstruction prior to starting repairs, and likely won’t be open for another six to eight weeks.
Polk says that Oak is grateful for the many concerned members of the community that have approached the restaurant, asking what they can do to help out.
“It’s really thoughtful, and it means a lot,” Polk says. “We’re definitely really looking forward to getting open as fast as possible. And we’re just really thankful for the community in Boulder for being super supportive of us.”
While Oak appears to be at a standstill, Polk and Redzikowski say they will be doing their best to stay busy and keep their staff motivated. Now is the time, Polk says, to take the opportunity to reorganize and expand the staff ’s knowledge through meetings twice a week and continued training.
Upon re-opening, Redzikowski says, Oak wants to come out of the gates even stronger than before. The restaurant hopes to keep all current staff members, who are being compensated during the re-building process.
The staff has been visiting sources of many of their products — going to different breweries, bread companies and spirit providers — in an effort to learn more about what they will be serving.
This, Polk says, has given them a more hands-on method of training that they wouldn’t normally get when going through everyday restaurant life.
“We’re trying to make this a positive thing,” Redzikowski says. “We have that grasp of what it’s like to open up, but now we can really fine-tune it.”
Although Redzikowski and Polk are both disappointed about missing out on spring cooking — with fresh produce from the Boulder Farmers’ Market — they say that Oak is looking forward to a few events in the coming months that will enable them to get back into the kitchen.
The restaurant still plans to participate in the Taste of Pearl on May 1, and Redzikowski has been speaking to some other chefs in the area to see if Oak might be able to prepare its food selections in nearby kitchens.
Oak will also be hosting a dinner with Avery Brewing Company on May 2, pairing each course with one of Avery’s beers. The proceeds from this event, Polk says, will likely benefit a cause for fighting or recovering from local fires.
“You can only hope so much,” Redzikowski says.
“And then you’ve got to say, ‘OK, I’ve got to get my butt back in gear.’” Respond: firstname.lastname@example.org