Juanice Gray | Editor
From the ashes we shall rise. Everyone has heard some variation of that phrase, but for one Natchitoches family, it is more than a phrase…it is a promise.
Mariner’s owners Ben and Keri Fidelak definitely plan to reopen after the Sunday morning fire that dumped soot and ash on every indoor surface of their restaurant and completely destroyed their kitchen and storage areas.
According to a statement from the State Fire Marshal’s office, “Deputies determined the fire began in the business’ electrical room, and while the exact cause remains undetermined, deputies do believe the cause will be electrical in nature.”
Keri’s first words, said with conviction Tuesday morning were, “We are down but we are not out.”
She said her brothers, who own TKTMJ Construction, jumped right in as soon as they got the call. “They are a Natchitoches business, but moved to their main operation to New Orleans after Katrina. My brothers are helping me. I can’t imagine doing this without them.”
She said her brother Thomas was already in Natchitoches. “He’s been on site since the moment they let us into the building then his guys drove in last night from New Orleans.”
The owners and the family contractors fear their biggest hurdle will be the timeline of getting deliveries of new equipment, lumber and needed items. “We are planning to be open for the Christmas season, meaning November,” she said. They will update their progress on their website and social media outlets.
Fidelak said after the initial shock and meltdown, determination set it. “We’re going to be creative and do everything we can to get this place back open.”
She said they plan to go back with the same nautical, coastal style used in the remodel done after they purchased the restaurant in September of 2020. “In the interim, what we’re planning now is maybe a pop up lunch or wine tasting event in the front open air patios.” While the majority of the restaurant was damaged, the patio area was mostly unscathed.
“The main body of the restaurant is covered in soot and water damage.” This is evidenced by the once pristine white tablecloths that are now a dingy gray. Place settings were laid out on the tables at the time of the fire. Removing the plates, silverware and dinnerware reveal splotches of perfect white. The cork floor, once mottled brown is accented with soot scarred with footprints of firefighters and others. A couch near the entrance displayed three magazines on it’s cushions. Moving one to the side revealed a stark contrast not immediately noticeable amid the more drastic backdrop of blackened appliances, broken glass and melted plastic.
“The front of the house will be a restoration process while the kitchen and storage areas will be a complete remodel,” Keri said. “The dining area has significant smoke damage to the beams, woodwork and the cork floors.”
A small portion of the still capped liquor may be saved. “The wines have all been compromised because of the extreme fluctuation in temperature. The inventory is a total loss. The food is all a waste too,” she said.
Still, one look around shows a group of family, friends and employees rolling up their sleeves and getting busy to begin the initial clean out. The furniture that survived the fire and smoke on the patio was being loaded into trailers to be placed in storage. General manager Hannah Milam and daughters, Brooklynn, 3, and Kayla were pitching in, with the girls carrying cushions and dragging chairs. Wait staff and the Fidelak’s son, Graeme, relieved them of their burdens and loaded the items on the trailers.
The Fidelaks have 24 hour on-site security in place to protect any assets.
“We are actively rebuilding, hitting the ground running. If we could survive the pandemic when no one knew what to do or expect, we can survive this,” Keri said. “We still have the island we just opened and we’ll serve eight at a time out there if we have to. We have an action plan and look at all these people! Friends and family are pitching in and we are so grateful to everyone for their support.”