The Marshall fire destroyed the Rotary restaurant, and sparked a year of reckoning for its owners
When Scott Boyd looks over a concrete pad ringed by a ragged fringe of weeds and a construction fence, he can still envision the hard work, the dreams, and the capital that went into this bleak spot.
A year ago, he and his partners had just opened The Rotary restaurant on this lot to serve the Louisville community, after opening a flagship Rotary in Denver in 2018. The new Rotary was just two weeks old when the fire tore through this town, incinerating more than 1,000 homes and a handful of businesses, including the restaurant.
Boyd was in the restaurant that morning preparing for what he hoped would be a busy day. Around noon, he realized that wasn’t to be. Fierce winds were blanketing the area with thick dust and smoke. Boyd decided that maybe he would close early; not many people would be getting out in that kind of weather.
Before he could direct his staff to start shutting down, he saw flames in the shrubs outside. He directed everyone to drop what they were doing and leave.
Chickens and steaks were still turning on the skewers in the new state-of-the-art rotisserie ovens. Side dishes were still in the warming pans. Cash was sitting in the drawers. But all he had time to do was lock the doors, hop in his car and speed away.
Boyd drove to his home about ten minutes away where his family and some out-of-town friends were now under evacuation orders. They loaded up and lined up in the mass exodus from Louisville, headed to a friend’s house in Denver.
The next day he learned that he still had a home, but The Rotary was gone.
That began a year of personal and professional reckoning. An old partnership would be broken and a new one formed. The concept of the restaurant would be reassessed. The idea of rebuilding in Louisville would be scrapped. And, in one way, Boyd’s business plan would go back to square one.
Boyd describes the fire’s aftermath as having “our youthful enthusiasm burned out of us,” referring to his partners, his brother Brian Boyd and lifelong friend Don Gragg. Losing the restaurant was one thing. They also faced supply-chain challenges, inflated costs and employee shortages. On top of all that, there were the ongoing pressures of COVID-19 over the past year.
Boyd ruminated on that pile up of challenges while visiting the site of his former restaurant with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.
Boyd described going back into what was left of the restaurant once the insurance adjusters had inspected it and declared The Rotary a total loss. He and his partners, outfitted with headlamps and thick gloves, scrambled over ice, broken glass and fallen chunks of ceiling. It was pitch dark inside. He likened it to spelunking.
They found much of what was inside unscathed by fire, but a lot was destroyed by the frozen water from the fire sprinkler system.
“It was surreal in there,” he said.
Boyd was able to salvage enough furniture and equipment to fill a storage unit. He said they essentially have an entire restaurant sitting in storage now.
They were able to repair a few items, like ovens, and use them as replacements in the Denver location.
The remainder, they hope to use in a new Rotary that they plan to locate in a food hall. He said that is still in negotiations.
The new restaurant will open with a new partner. Gragg – a childhood friend who had worked in high-end restaurants – decided to move on after the fire. A manager at the initial Rotary stepped in to take his place.
Boyd said his other job as a therapist in Boulder, his regular meditation practice, and his sobriety have helped him get through the loss and the year of uncertainty that followed.
He no longer has to drive by the tattered banner that was hanging on the patio of The Rotary and that somehow did not burn. “Rotary Now Open” fluttered there for many months after the fire, and caused him a pang of pain each time he passed by.
Without that constant reminder, Boyd said it is easier to move on - and move ahead.
He has a philosophical view about it.
“It’s more than just avoiding the bad stuff,” he said. “It is also being okay with that bad stuff.”
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