Sometimes when tragedy strikes opportunities arise for people to step up and help out others in need, such was the case with The Silver Spoon’s owner Vera Oldham and her staff following a devastating fire at the restaurant back in April.

Crews are still working to restore The Silver Spoon, 529 SW C, to its former glory, but thanks to an insurance policy paid for by Oldham to protect her employees, the staff of the restaurant have been taken care of in the four months that the restaurant has been closed for repairs.

The fire at the restaurant occurred on April 21, and while the fire itself, which started in the restaurant’s kitchen, burned out fairly quickly, smoke caused significant damage to the rest of the restaurant.

“It started in the kitchen, with an electrical arc in a 14-month old sandwich unit,” Oldham said.

Smoke damage in building

“The first burned just in the kitchen, but smoke spread throughout the building,” said The Silver Spoon’s cook Roger Church.

The fire, which started in the afternoon, was still smoldering early the next morning, Oldham said. That day, not only was the restaurant a loss, but Oldham said she also lost a delivery of fresh meat and produce that arrives every Monday.

“At first we thought we would be able to a couple of weeks of tidy up work, but as time went on it became a darker and darker story,” Oldham said.

In portions of the building, the walls had to be removed down to the studs she said. Oldham said that Servepro representatives were on hand for two weeks cleaning and sponging the building in the hopes of getting the restaurant back up and operating quickly.

When it became apparent that the news would be more dire than originally thought, Oldham met with her staff at Atlanta Bread, another business owned by Oldham, and gave them the news.

“It was a very reassuring speech,” Church said.

Part of what helped make the speech even more reassuring was that Oldham had the foresight to include in her insurance policy for the restaurant a special rider to cover employee salaries in just such a scenario.

“When I did by business plan years ago, I wanted to make sure I had the most robust insurance plan I could have,” Oldham said.

Oldham said she bought the additional coverage because in case of an emergency situation, she didn’t want to lose her staff.

“They are very skilled workers,” Oldham said. “Some of my staff have been with me for many years and it isn’t easy to find experienced service personnel. It takes a lot of training to have the type of staff we have.”

Employees continue receiving salaries

Church said thanks to the insurance coverage the employees were able to continue to receive their salaries. Oldham also went to bat for her hourly servers to ensure they would receive their actual pay and not the minimum tipped employee wage of $2.13.

Thanks to the policy, Church said she only lost one of her approximately 20 employees, with the rest remaining.

“Everyone was really happy with being paid during this period,” Church said.

Specifically, Church said the money allowed him to be able to get married and go on his honeymoon in Hawaii in August. He said while the wedding and honeymoon had already been planned, the policy allowed him to be able to afford the trip and enjoy the trip without having to stress about finances.

Oldham said her staff isn’t simply sitting around and collecting their paychecks.

“Everyone always asks me when they can get back to work,” Oldham said. “Several of my servers have helped since the fire with off-site catering and other projects.”

“I try to help any chance I get,” Church said. “I help with catering or wherever I am needed.”

Oldham is hoping that The Silver Spoon will be reopening at the end of September or early October. There is still quite a bit of work to do on the restaurant to get it back up and running, but Oldham is confident. A lot of work to restore the restaurant has already been done.

Due to the smoke damage the restaurant had to have entirely new electrical wiring installed. Oldham said she also had to replace the HVAC unit as well as the kitchen equipment including all cooking and bakery related equipment. Also, there is a possibility that some or all of the antique furniture that graced the restaurant prior to the fire will have to be replaced. New paneling will also need to be placed in the kitchen and baking areas.

“It will look wonderful when we get it all done,” Oldham said.

“The one good thing about all of this is we will basically be able to build a brand new restaurant,” Church added.

Oldham though was happy that she was able to keep her most important resource, her staff.

“This was the best business decision I ever made,” Oldham said of the employee salary policy. “I would encourage other business owners to invest in it themselves.”

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