By Michelle Price
UCBJ Managing Editor
COOKEVILLE – Just over one year after an early morning fire devastated Crawdaddy’s restaurant in Cookeville’s historic West Side, the restaurant is set to reopen on Tuesday, Dec. 28, bringing back many of its popular dishes in an expanded and upgraded atmosphere.
“Because of codes and the fire, the entire building had to be gutted. Every bit of HVAC, plumbing, electrical – everything in here is brand spanking new,” said co-owner Drew Blalock. “That being said, we were still able to achieve the goal to make this place look even more rustic than it did before.”
Turns out that the total devastation to the inside of the building actually allowed the owners (which includes Blue Hensley) to make some tweaks to the restaurant’s layout. Every part of the building has been upgraded, from new spacious restrooms to a kitchen that is twice the size as before.
The reconstruction of the building wasn’t without growing pains, however, as the co-owners will attest.
“It has been one of the most stressful things that I and my team have gone through, and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” commented Blalock. “Hurdles – there’s one in your face every day, especially at the start of the (reconstruction) process.”
In hindsight, Blalock feels that it would have been easier to build from the ground up, as it took between 3-6 months to get plans approved before the construction could even start.
Furnishing the restaurant was also an adventure. Most of the restaurant’s equipment and furnishings had to be replaced, but their replacement had to be timed with the construction.
Blalock detailed some of what he faced while purchasing the items, which included major inflation and supply challenges along the way.
“During the process, I knew what stuff I (had) to replace because of the fire, and I was lining that up,” he said. “While I was putting it in the cart, I was thinking it’s so much money. And then all of a sudden, $35,000 of stuff became $48,000 (because of supply shortages or inflation) of stuff. Everything simply started jumping in price!”
Making matters tougher, items that were available would disappear from his supply cart and become unavailable, forcing him to source items from other companies and to buy as quickly as possible when he found them again, even though he wouldn’t be ready for their delivery for several months down the road.
He joked that his house looked like a restaurant for months, with both his house and garage full of items being held until they could be moved into the restaurant.
Transportation issues also impacted deliveries of needed items. For example, chairs ordered for the dining room sat in Nashville for a month, finally arriving just over one week ago.
To make matters worse, Blalock and Hensley then had to prepare for some of the issues the entire resaurant industry has been facing during Covid. Like food costs and wage increases.
“Food costs have increased 20% across-the-board and labor inflation is about the same,” Blalock said. “We’re not the only ones fighting that though. The nation’s fighting those same changes, so we’re just going to get back in the game and do the best we can.”
Blalock was fortunate to retain many of the employees he had before the fire. That’s somewhat because his business interruption insurance allowed many back of the house employees to be paid throughout the reconstruction of the restaurant.
As for the front of house, the owners recently hired 45 new employees to fully staff for the reopening. But still, they are accepting applications for both front and back of the house positions for the near future. Interested workers can apply in person at the restaurant.
After several test runs and new training that recently occurred for new employees, Blaylock and Hensley are excited to return to normal operating hours on Tuesday, Dec. 28. The restaurant is located at 53 W. Broad Street in Cookeville, across from the old Cookeville Depot.