ERLANGER, Ky. — Matt Grimes shepherded popular Erlanger eatery Colonial Cottage through more than a year under pandemic restrictions, only to see his doors closed again Friday by an early morning fire.
"We started, and we've faced some challenges, the biggest being COVID," Grimes told WCPO Friday evening. "Now this is just going to add a challenge to it."
Early Friday morning, fire crews responded to a reported structure fire at the restaurant along the 3100 block of Dixie Highway. Firefighters arrived to find heavy smoke and fire.
Officials said the blaze badly damaged the restaurant, but no injuries were reported.
Officials later said the fire started overnight in the restaurant's kitchen, ruining some equipment. A space that was supposed to be filled with customers later that day instead filled with smoke.
"The Cottage is temporarily closed due to a fire," owners wrote on Facebook Friday. "Thankful the Erlanger Fire Department responded so quickly and no injuries reported. We will update our Cottage Community at a later date."
"It's a legendary Erlanger restaurant," said Mayor Jessica Fette. "Everybody's been to Colonial Cottage."
Fette began her Friday morning with a call to Grimes, who launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for the restaurant's 34 employees who are now temporarily out of work.
"It's not for me. I have insurance for this, but all the people that work for me, we're going to face some obstacles. I have to explore what opportunities that I have to make sure that they're taken care of," Grimes said.
Fette said Grimes' response mirrors the restaurant's reputation throughout the neighborhood.
"Even in a tragedy, they're thinking of others, and that just sends a wonderful example for our own community," she said.
Grimes said the last year has prepared him to weather yet another storm, guided by his optimism.
"We can do it with the faith, belief in God, and the people that are around us," he said. "I'm confident we can rebuild this, and it will be stronger than it was before."