SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - UPDATE: The owner of The Olde Pink House in Savannah has released a statement just one day after a fire caused extensive damage to the historic restaurant.
The statement said in part, “The Olde Pink House is an architectural treasure that stands apart as one of Georgia’s most historic buildings, dating back to 1771. We’re committed to repairing the damage from the fire and restoring this historic structure to its original grandeur."
It went on to say they are currently assessing the damage and determining the timeline for repairs. They hope to reopen soon.
The general manager tells us they are trying to get the doors back open as soon as possible, and by the looks of all the workers going in and out of the building, a lot of hard work is being put in to doing just that. He says he is thankful for the community and the generosity they have shown The Pink House and its employees.
“We always knew we had a big footprint in this city, but when something like this happens, the outpouring of concern for us and our staff has been huge, and it really puts it in perspective just how much you matter to those around you,” said Craig Jeffress, General Manager, The Olde Pink House.
Just to give you an idea of how many employees the fire impacted, Jeffress tells us they have over 250 employees at the restaurant. On their busy shifts, over 90 people can be working at once.
Jeffress says the smoke and water damage is to be expected, but the building itself is remarkably in tact. He says it’s mostly confined to that one room.
“The amazing response from the firemen and the first responders is unreal and I cannot say enough thanks to them and their efforts,” he said. “Again, with it being such a large building, they kept a lot of it from bring damaged.”
Right now, there is no timetable as to when the restaurant could reopen, but Jeffress says they are working their hardest to clean up the mess and their reopening may be sooner than you think.
Savannah Fire investigators have identified a Christmas tree as the likely source of the fire at the The Olde Pink House Restaurant, Thursday morning.
Officials say the fire appears to have originated around a live Christmas tree located in the second floor ballroom.
Firefighters were able to extinguish the fire. When they arrived, heavy smoke and fire was streaming from the second floor, and flames were visible through the windows.
Viewer video from Germaine Brown shows a lady being rescued from a second story window. She is outside the building, waiting for the crowd to bring her a ladder.
Our reporter on scene confirmed that the woman was an employee and had to kick out the window. Fellow employees are the ones seen giving her the ladder to help her climb down.
Everyone did get out of the building safely.
There is reportedly extensive damage to the ballroom. Power has been cut to the entire building.
The restaurant is closed until the damage is mitigated and the Health Department issues a clearance.
The Savannah Professional Firefighters Association, Local 574, posted the following to Facebook:
The Olde Pink House is a tourist and local favorite, especially since it’s within walking distance from many of the downtown area hotels and businesses. Still in the early stages of damage assessment, it’s unclear how long the business will have to stay closed - not only affecting the owners, but also the employees.
Savannah’s restaurant and tourism industries are stepping in to help workers in any way they can.
Word of the fire spread quickly on social media, and within hours, a post on Facebook appeared from another Savannah restaurant extending an offer to their fellow industry workers. Only open for about two-and-a-half-months, staff at La Scala Ristorante already have a tradition: a family meal a few hours before the restaurant opens. Thursday, the restaurant’s general manager extended a family meal invitation to to The Olde Pink House employees.
“This is an opportunity for us to reach out and show them a little bit of love in a very difficult time,” said Stephen McLain, Chef de Cuisine, La Scala.
Chef Stephen McLain says they’re willing to do even more for The Olde Pink House workers, understanding being temporarily out of a job around the holidays is especially difficult.
“Of course, everyone’s got bills to pay and mouths to feed, so if we can help in any way by filling some spots here, just until they get reopened, then absolutely," McLain said. “We’re willing to temporarily give people an opportunity to come and work with us and be a part of our family, and when it’s time and they’re ready to go back, then absolutely; that’s their original home.”
The president and CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council also echoed that willingness and readiness to help any way they can.
“It’s early yet to see. Obviously, the company needs to make plans on how they’re going to go about rebuilding from this, assess the damage, so on and so forth. If we need to do job placement, we’ll assist with that. It’s really whatever they need to be whole again," said Michael Owens, President/CEO, Tourism Leadership Council. “That’s going to be our primary concern. A lot of those folks are servers, and DMOs, and stewards and chefs, and this is how they earn a living, so my first and primary concern is about all the people that make The Pink House so great. It’s not the building. It’s the people. Want to make sure they’re all taken care of the very best that we can.”
We caught up with some tourists from Florida who say they come to Savannah often and The Olde Pink House is always their number once choice to eat every time they visit.
The couple says they wanted to go back Thursday for lunch after having dinner there Wednesday night, but walked around the corner to find employees outside and fire trucks surrounding the building.
“Hopefully, that’s something to be repaired because I’d hate to see this restaurant not here because we love coming to Savannah and The Olde Pink House is an enjoyable place to be.”
The people who had the chance to eat there Wednesday say they were lucky to have the experience.
“I had the braised ribs. My wife had duck. The people are just unbelievable. The staff and everybody. Then, we go down to the tavern afterwards to have a cocktail by the tavern, and to me, it’s a unique place. I’m from New Orleans, and to me, this is as good as it gets. This is a great restaurant.”
The restaurant sent out voice messages to everyone who made reservations for Thursday and told them they would have to cancel because of an emergency.
When it comes to repairs, approving permitting for interior and exterior fixes can be expedited in circumstances like this for buildings in Savannah’s Historic District. That’s just one step along the way to getting the iconic restaurant back up and running.
The Olde Pink House was built back in 1771. It’s one of Savannah’s oldest buildings, but in modern history, it was almost demolished. Two local men stepped up almost 50 years ago and transformed it into a Savannah icon.
Joyce McCallar and her granddaughter Nicolle have a special connection to the Pink House. Joyce’s brother-in-law sort of saved it from being torn down in 1970. Savannah native Herschel McCallar, Jr. and his partner Jeffrey Keith bought The Pink House for around $60,000. They made headlines in the local paper that Fall.
They restored it and returned it to its original color, pink, of course. They appropriately named it “The Pink House” and started serving lunch and dinner. Occasionally, the historic building served as a backdrop for family parties.
After Herschel died in 1990, Jeff sold the restaurant in 1992.