A day after a fire gutted the bathrooms and caused severe smoke damage to the Fuddruckers location in Billings' Heights, the owner said it's closed for good and he's in the process of selling the property.
Owner Dave Diehl, who had just arrived in Cancun, Mexico, Thursday for a family vacation, flew back to Billings that day to "deal with the disaster."
The Fuddruckers at 875 Main St. caught fire at 1:30 a.m. Thursday, according to a press release from Billings Fire Department. The burger franchise experienced heavy smoke damage throughout the building and fire damage in the restrooms. Someone was walking by the business early Thursday and reported the fire, Diehl said Thursday.
Diehl first heard from his security company and thought it was a false alarm before the fire department contacted him. He was surprised to hear the fire was in the men's bathroom; it seemed more likely that a fryer had been left on, or something in the kitchen, he said.
Upon his return and seeing the damage, on Friday he amended his initial estimate of a 30-day closure to an indefinite one.
The damage to the building is severe enough to take anywhere from 90 to 120 days to fix, he said. Not only were the bathrooms gutted, but because the air conditioning was running at the time of the fire, smoke and ash circulated all through the building and the HVAC system. That would need to be completely replaced before the business were to reopen.
The fire department estimated property and content damage at $30,000. Diehl expected the cost to be much higher, possibly more than $100,000, after expected duct work replacement, food loss, and fixing the damaged restrooms and the hole in the roof. "It adds up," he said. The property and its contents are insured.
However, since he was already in the process of selling the land and building to a developer, and knew that their plan was to tear the building down, he decided Friday to remain closed until the sale is finalized. As part of the agreement with the buyer, he had planned to be out of the building by November, and the repairs would take longer than that to finish, he said.
Diehl doesn't know who the buyer is, citing the confidentiality of the buy-sell agreement. "All I know is it's not a restaurant and it's not retail," he said.
That may not mean Diehl is done with Fuddruckers. There are three years left on his franchise agreement with the burger chain, and he said he may look for another location to set up shop during that time. He just hopes to put this fire behind him.
As for his employees, two managers are moving to his other businesses, and he wanted to give his other employees as much notice as possible to find new jobs elsewhere. Diehl also owns Pita Mill, Spinners, Banano, Orange Julius and Bottle Shop. He does not own Billings' other Fuddruckers location on Overland Avenue.
Diehl said he's glad to keep moving forward.
"I'm relieved it happened at night, with no customers and no one injured," he said. "It's such a freak accident. Usually when you hear about a restaurant fire, it's the fryers. ... You don't think it's going to be the fart fan in the bathroom."