Trial By Fire And Water

January 12, 1994|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

It was their dream come true: Two women who together have four decades of working in someone else's bars and restaurants finally took on a business of their own in October.

Then came the nightmare: A wake-up call on Dec. 29 saying the building was on fire.

Fortunately for Dino's restaurant owners Dale Chalfant and Christine Schmidt, the fire was contained to the second floor of the building on Ritchie Highway, damaging an apartment and the restaurant's business office.

Below, the soggy dining room ceiling had come down, nearly all the food had to be thrown away, ankle-deep water in the basement shut one of two furnaces and the place reeked from smoke.

Firefighters estimated it would take a few weeks to reopen.

The establishment, which has been there for about 40 years, reopened in two days.

"I have a very good family, and we have a very good group of friends and clientele. We didn't have to ask anybody," said Ms. Schmidt, 29, of Glen Burnie. "The phone just rang off the hook."

About a dozen people came in to scrub and haul away the mess, working day and night to help put Dino's back in business.

"And I mean they worked all day long. It was just wonderful having them. They all really came in and worked through the whole day -- and we didn't hardly have any heat," said Ms. Chalfant, 52, of Severn.

In about 50 hours, new food lined the kitchen shelves, rugs were dried and vacuumed, the basement was drained, the furnace was running, a new ceiling covered the dining room, vinyl sheets covered the roof, and a meeting room was converted into a temporary office.

The restaurant reopened at 4 p.m. New Year's Eve.

A faint smoky odor near the entrance is the only evidence of the fire.

"We scrubbed everything down," Ms. Schmidt said. "The bar wasn't affected but I cleaned everything in the bar, every glass.

"That's one thing we can joke about, now we can say everything in the place is spotless."

Their joy was short-lived, however. Two days later, the vinyl sheets serving as a temporary roof blew off. Rain drenched the new dining room ceiling, and the soddened panels tumbled down.

"I just wanted to sit down and cry," Ms. Chalfant said.

Friends and family returned and cleaned again.

Dino's has kept about half its business, although the restaurant is hard to find at night, Ms. Chalfant said. Floodlights that illuminated the building had been part of the second floor's electrical system, which is out of commission.

Investigators blamed the fire on an electrical short upstairs.

For about five years, Ms. Chalfant and Ms. Schmidt had talked about having their own business.

They worked together for about eight years at the former Greenway Station and Paul's Pub, and last year started seriously looking for a restaurant and bar to buy.

Ms. Chalfant puts in about 70 hours a week. Ms. Schmidt, who has a full-time computer job at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, comes in most evenings after work.

"I am not a quitter," Ms. Schmidt said.

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