Helen’s Restaurant owners pledge to rebuild

Posted July 11, 2014, at 4:31 p.m.
Last modified July 11, 2014, at 6:45 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — The husband and wife who own the landmark business in Washington County that was destroyed by fire Friday say they will rebuild.

David and Julie Barker purchased Helen’s Restaurant from his mother in 2008. He is the third family member to operate the business, which has been at its current location since 1983.

The popular restaurant is located on U.S. Route 1 immediately before the dike that crosses the mouth of the Middle River, where it joins the Machias River. The couple live in a home on the other side of the dike, atop a hill, where they can see the business.

Julie Barker said she woke up in the middle of the night. While she was reading a book, she heard sirens. She told her husband it must be a celebration for a returning veteran.

“I said to David, ‘A soldier must be coming home,'” Barker said.

David Barker looked out the window and noticed a little bit of smoke coming from the restaurant. They drove to the site to see firefighters busy at the scene.

She first thought it was a minor fire that mainly would cause smoke damage and perhaps keep the business closed for a few weeks, she said.

“It was quite shocking,” she continued, to see the fire spread and engulf the restaurant as the morning went on.

The Machias natives, both 47, indicated they were undeterred by the disaster when asked whether they would rebuild the restaurant.

“We are [going to rebuild],” Julie Barker said.

“Absolutely,” David Barker said, later noting the building was insured.

He could not estimate the value of the loss but suggested it would cost about $1 million to $1.5 million to rebuild the restaurant. He hopes to begin construction later this summer and reopen the restaurant in the spring, he said.

The restaurant employs 50 people during the peak summer season and has a weekly payroll of about $10,000, according to Barker.

“Our only concern is for our Helen’s family — our co-workers” Julie Barker said.

She began to cry quietly as she talked with a reporter about a fundraising campaign that had been established for employees and referred to the “wonderful community” of Machias and its environs. As of Friday afternoon, the campaign already raised nearly $6,000, according to its website.

“Helen’s isn’t just about food,” Julie Barker said. “It’s about our family.”