Owner of Bar Harbor restaurant destroyed in fire: ‘I’ll be fine’

The back of the building that houses the Portside Grill is seen Wednesday in Bar Harbor, a day after a fire destroyed the building.
Gabor Degre | BDN
The back of the building that houses the Portside Grill is seen Wednesday in Bar Harbor, a day after a fire destroyed the building.
Posted Sept. 04, 2014, at 4:02 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 04, 2014, at 7:03 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The owner of a Cottage Street restaurant destroyed in a fire Tuesday night said Thursday she is not sure whether or not she will rebuild.

Vicki Hall, owner of Portside Grill, said she’s been preoccupied with worry for her 18 employees, some of whom lived in apartments above the ruined restaurant.

“In the long run, I’ll be fine,” Hall said, adding that she also was living in an apartment upstairs from Portside Grill when the fire broke out in the building about 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“I’m more concerned about my employees and getting them back to something normal,” Hall said.

All of them, she added, have been offered employment at other businesses in Bar Harbor. Local seasonal businesses often have difficulty filling positions in the fall, after many college students have returned to school and left their summer jobs behind.

According to a state official, the investigation into the fire has been closed and the cause has not been determined. Sgt. Tim York of the state fire marshal’s office said Thursday that investigators determined the fire started in the ceiling above the kitchen, in the space between the kitchen and the apartments above.

Hall, who also works as a vice president with a local bank, said that she and the four employees who lived above Portside Grill are being given free temporary housing at Wonder View Inn (part of the Maine-based Lafayette Hotels chain) while they look for longer-term housing. Hall said her dog is staying with her at the pet-friendly inn.

“She thinks she’s on vacation,” the restaurateur said of her canine.

Hall said she was waiting for officials with her insurance company and the state fire marshal’s office to conclude their investigations into the cause of the fire before she decides what to do next. She said that, if she ends up demolishing the restaurant building, she is not sure if she will rebuild.

Hall said that the past two days have been an emotional rollercoaster.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Hall said. “The most emotional part has been the support we have gotten from the community. I really do appreciate how much the community has been supporting all of us.”

The fire in the densely packed downtown village, where many buildings sit cheek-to-jowl along the pedestrian-friendly streets, alarmed officials and residents who were concerned that it would spread through the block. Owners of buildings that directly abut the restaurant — the Thirsty Whale tavern on one side and the Rite Aid pharmacy on the other — gave credit on Wednesday to the local fire department for containing the flames to the Portside Grill.

Both abutting buildings had smoke and water damage but are insured. Rite Aid was open the next day, though tenants who live in apartments above the pharmacy were displaced for two nights. The Thirsty Whale is expected to be closed for a few days while the tavern is cleaned and its food inventory replaced.

Other business owners, friends of Hall and people who worked for her have been raising money and other donations such as clothes and food. The American Red Cross of Maine also has been in contact with Hall’s tenants and those above Rite Aid who were displaced, helping to provide food, clothing and shelter to more than a dozen people.

The Dog & Pony tavern and the First Express copying and printing shop have been accepting clothing donations. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, an online fundraising effort at gofundme.com had raised more than $4,800 for employees of both the Portside Grill and the Thirsty Whale.

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