Staff at a Horsham town centre restaurant that was destroyed by a fire less than four months ago celebrated its re-opening this week.
Flames erupted from Wabi, in East Street, on the morning of Sunday May 11, and it was believed the blaze caused between £400,000 and £500,000 of damage.
Owners Paul and Verity Craig were dealt a blow when they were denied an insurance payout - but thanks to bank support and their staff’s hard work in helping to clear the rubble, they were able to re-open.
The restaurant opened on Monday (September 1) in a partial capacity, with normal service likely to be resumed next week.
Paul said: “Initially I was relieved to see that the roof was still on the building and that the fire brigade had managed to control the fire.
“However, this turned to a heart wrenching sensation when I eventually entered the building for the first time and saw the devastation internally.”
Paul and Verity bought Wabi in October 2013.
They were dealt a further blow in the weeks following the blaze when their insurance company refused to cover the cost of the rebuild.
However, loans secured with Barclays - as well as a more unconventional means of support from the bank - provided the couple with the necessary financial backing.
Paul said: “We’ve been bowled over by how supportive Barclays have been, not only with the necessary loans but also personally.
“I received a call from my corporate bank manager. He said that he and his senior team were so sorry to hear about what we had gone through and how our insurance group had treated us that they would like to offer to ‘throw on their jeans and T-shirts on one of their holiday days and help us rebuild at Wabi’.
“Verity and I both actually felt quite moved that they were showing such kindness.”
As well as builders and bank managers, the restaurant’s staff helped to clear the burnt rubble and assisted with the rebuild where possible.
Verity gave birth less than a week before the fire, and described it as ‘a sobering time’.
She said: “Our baby daughter was five days old at the time and so with the fire happening that week it was an especially difficult time for us, a terrible shock.
“We just kept reminding ourselves that our daughter was healthy which was the main thing and also that no one was hurt in the fire. It was a sobering time.”
Wabi’s new design will incorporate more seating areas, a new level above the new cocktail bar and a new garden, and will be open until 2.30am on Friday and Saturday evenings. The interior has also been redecorated.
Emergency services were called to East Street at about 5.40am on the morning of the blaze.
Police set up a cordon as firefighters successfully battled the flames, using six hose reels and eight breathing apparatus. Nobody was inside the burning building and no firefighters were injured.
Restaurant staff, waiting staff and bar staff took part in a mass clearing up job inside the building two days later, on Tuesday May 13.
Mark Hayter, fire investigation officer for West Sussex Fire and Rescue, said at the time the source of the fire was an electric cooker.
He added: “It was quite a serious fire, causing smoke damage to virtually the whole of the building.”