Work in Progress

After closing its doors in late May following a fire, T.J. Willie’s is gearing for a re-opening.

Doug Dunlap, co-owner of the restaurant, said he is planning on a re-opening date of Oct. 2, if all goes as planned.

Dunlap said he has been at the restaurant every day to assist construction crews in the clean-up and reconstruction of the business.

“It’s a huge process,” Dunlap said. “It’ll be four months by the time we get open.”

Until recently, infrastructure work, including electrical and heating, ventilation and air conditioning, took a lot of the crew’s time.

“The cosmetic work is just starting,” Dunlap said. “Up to this point, it’s been clean-up and infrastructure work.”

Wallpaper just started to go up, he said, and painting also began.

“We’re going to have a totally different look,” he said. “The entire color scheme will be different.”

Although the basic layout will be the same inside the restaurant, tables, chairs, carpeting and decorations will have more of a modern twist. The bar area also will be expanded, Dunlap said.

“I tell everyone involved with the decorating and other parts of the process to look at is as the same but different. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to spruce it up a little,” Dunlap said.

The menu also will be spruced a bit.

Dunlap, who describes the full menu as “American cuisine with flair,” said new menu items will be added to each category. One addition is the southwest chicken salad, which once was on a limited-time menu at T.J. Willie’s.

“We’re very excited about the way the restaurant is going to look and the new menu items,” he said.

Terra Turner, a manager at T.J. Willie’s who has been working at the restaurant for 12 years, said she is excited for the restaurant’s new look.

She, too, has been at the restaurant helping with painting, cleaning and tearing down wallpaper.

“It’s going to be fantastic when it’s done,” she said. “It’s still going to be T.J.’s, just with a little uplift.”

One major change to the restaurant will be its kitchen. Dunlap said the kitchen is being completely re-done as it was destroyed from the fire. The rest of the restaurant, however, suffered mainly heat and smoke damage.

The fire, which broke out in the cooking area of the kitchen during the early morning hours of May 31, had been discovered by a Tiffin police officer performing routine patrol.

When firefighters arrived to the restaurant, smoke was coming out of the roof and the kitchen was fully engulfed. It took firefighters about 1 1/2 hours to extinguish the fire.

Dunlap said by the time he arrived at the restaurant after learning of the fire, the fire was out.

He said it didn’t take him long to decide he wanted to reopen the restaurant. He knew he wasn’t ready to retire and his heart was in the restaurant business.

“I decided that I certainly wanted to rebuild and stay in business,” he said. “If we were given lemons, then we have to make lemonade. We decided to make the best lemonade we know how.”

“I love the restaurant,” he said. “The community’s been just very, very supportive of the restaurant over the years.”

Dunlap, who is business partners with his brother, Larry, opened the restaurant in 1983. Dunlap said prior to opening T.J. Willie’s, he was active in the food and beverage industry.

Throughout the years, the restaurant has grown, he said. In 1995, the restaurant expanded its operations by adding more seating, a larger bar and banquet facilities. Five years ago, an outdoor patio was added.

“People really enjoy eating outside,” Dunlap said.

Although this month marked the restaurant’s 30th anniversary, T.J. Willie’s won’t let the milestone slip by. Next year, the restaurant will be celebrating both its 30th and 31st anniversary, Dunlap said.

“That will be exciting,” he said.

Dunlap said he is most anxious to reopen the restaurant to be able to serve food again to customers, many of whom are loyal customers.

“We’re all excited about getting re-opened,” Dunlap said. “We just have to be patient and keep plugging away.”