Permits are being pulled and plans are being drawn up as the owners of the Kirby and Holloway move closer to rebuilding the iconic Dover restaurant that’s been shuttered since a fire ravaged the eatery in February.
The only major question now is when the restaurant will make it’s return.
“Everyone’s been asking that question,” said Dover resident Jim Gray, who owns Kirby and Holloway with his wife, Kathy.
“It’s a question of pulling it all together. We’re working hard on that.”
The landmark eatery, which has stood on U.S. Route 13 since 1948, sustained nearly a $1 million in damages during the Feb. 2 fire that was later determined to have been caused by an electrical malfunction.
Since the fire, the Grays have been working with Dover city government, their insurance company, contractors and architects to bring the restaurant back to life.
But work has been moving more slowly than the family first envisioned. Instead of the late summer return they had hoped for, the Grays now expecting to re-open for business in the latter part of this year.
“This is just something that hit us out of the blue,” son Philip Gray said. “We’ve been scrambling and dealing with things as they pop up, but we’ve made a lot of progress so far.”
Philip said the family intends to demolish most of what’s left of the almost-5,000-square-foot restaurant and construct a new, 7,700-square-foot replacement. The plan is to keep one wall, an original section of the 66-year-old building, for nostalgia’s sake, as long as it is structurally sound, he said.
“That’s not set in stone,” Philip added. “In the demolition process, anything can happen.”
A permit to demolish the old building was issued June 26, although an exact date for that work to start has not yet been set.
In the meantime, Dover’s city planning staff has reviewed a proposed site plan for the reconstruction work and suggested a number of changes. That work is being done by Minnich Engineering of Camden, said Dawn Melson-Williams, Dover’s principal planner. The review also included comments from the city’s public works department, the fire marshal and the Delaware Department of Transportation.
“The site plan still needs final approval,” said Melson-Williams, who added that the various agencies that looked at the plan also must be satisfied their respective requirements have been met.
The project will not require a review by the city planning commission or a public hearing before being issued a building permit, she said.
The restaurant’s iconic sign will continue to stand, Gray said. Shortly after the fire, the city’s Historic District Commission declared the sign historically and culturally significant, meaning it can remain as-is, with no modifications, even though it does not meet current standards governing business signs.
“You can’t move that sign,” Philip said. “It’s the face of the business.”
Keeping the vibe
The original restaurant had undergone a number of changes in its lifetime, he said. It expanded its footprint in the 1950s with the addition of a covered walkway where people would be served in their cars by roller-skating waitresses. Although later demolished, the carhop’s concrete pad remains.
In addition to other updates, the family had completed some renovations to the restaurant’s counter area shortly before the fire struck, he said.
People were comfortable with the old restaurant and long time Dover residents who now live elsewhere often made it a point to drop in for a meal whenever they would make a return visit to the city, he said.
With that in mind, the reconstructed building will keep that familiar vibe, Philip said.
“We want to maintain the soul of the old establishment,” he said. “Obviously, it will have an all-new interior, but we want to blend the new with the old. We will have more light, it will be more open and airy and will have a nice, modern feel to it.”
Philip, who now lives in California, said he has taken time off from his regular job to stay in Dover and help manage the reconstruction work.
“We’ve been holding up pretty well,” he said. “This business has been an important part of the community and it’s been a constant in all of our lives. It helped shape how we all grew up.”
Philip, 29, began his working career sweeping cigarette butts from the restaurant parking lot.
“From there, it was peeling potatoes, cleaning floors and bussing tables,” he said. “All [8 Gray siblings] worked there in one capacity or another. Now, everyone has been contributing in their own way without putting our own lives on hold.”
The family also has gotten a tremendous amount of support from many of the restaurant’s roughly 60 employees, most of whom will return once the doors reopen.
“They weigh heavily on my father’s mind,” Philip said. “He worries about them quite a bit. They’re all part of the family.”