Fire destroy’s New Ulm’s Perkins restaurant

By Fritz Busch – Staff Writer , The Journal

NEW ULM – It was a typical early Sunday afternoon at Perkins Family Restaurant and Bakery, 1727 S. Broadway until about 1:45 p.m.

“We had just finished the noon rush, but there were about 100 guests and staff in the building when a guest came into the store and said there was smoke outside the building,” said General Manager Bobbi Fuhr. “Host Will Geisz reacted very quickly. He went outside, verified there was smoke, came back into the restaurant, called 911 and told us to evacuate the restaurant. Everyone got out safely.”

A cigarette tossed near the entry is suspected as the cause of the fire. Fuhr posted on Facebook that the fire marshal had visited the scene later Sunday and confirmed that a cigarette may have sparked the blaze.

Fuhr also indicated the Perkins will rebuild in the Facebook entry. She already contacted a contractor Sunday to get the process started.

Courtland firefighter Vic Roepke was a guest in the restaurant when the fire started. “People got out quickly,” he said.

“I couldn’t believe it went up that fast,” he said. A brisk wind helped accelerate the fire.

Roepke assisted in the evacuation of the restaurant, shouting into one of the restrooms to alert guests to the danger. He also advised guests to move their cars from the parking lot.

The New Ulm Fire Department responded quickly with three pumper trucks and a ladder truck, all of which were used to fight the fire that continued to burn underneath exterior facia an hour after it began.

It appeared the fire was extinguished until firefighters removed exterior building facia and small flames appeared before they were doused.

“There’s a lot of water damage in the building,” New Ulm Fire Chief Paul Macho said.

A large crowd of people surrounded the burning restaurant on adjoining city blocks and across Broadway and Minnesota Street. Photos of the fire were posted on online social media.

Police stopped traffic on Broadway, and traffic crawled past the fire on Minnesota Street.

Firefighters used a long ladder to fight the fire from above with a water hose. Other firefighters on the ground used hoses to put out flames and also long poles to remove exterior siding and facia to get at the blaze.

Recently reaching her 20th anniversary with Perkins, 16 years as general manager, Fuhr thought the fire was unusual because it seemed to start outside.

“We just started a three-week remodeling project about a week ago. Contractors ripped off exterior signs, siding and did quite a bit of electrical work before the fire,” Fuhr said.

“Perkins is my home away from home,” she said. “I began working here as a server at age 16. It’s OK. We’ll rebuild,” Fuhr said.

The fire destroyed much of the south side of the restaurant.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office was contacted to investigate the fire.