ATHOL - Howard and Suz White reopened their Saddle Up Grill Steakhouse on Thursday more than two years after it was nearly destroyed by fire.
The day might never have arrived had it not been for the help of friends and neighbors and the perseverance of the Whites.
Nearly two dozen people pitched in to help them rebuild the popular restaurant at 5751 E. Highway 54.
The work came piece by piece over the two years, and at times the project seemed beyond reach, White said.
“People were very generous. I have a lot of friends,” White said on Thursday as customers dined on the lunch special, a Philly cheesesteak.
The friends, he said, were a “gift from God. They helped me keep moving forward - even if it was just buying a few two-by-fours.”
The fire on Dec. 17, 2008, ripped through the restaurant that the Whites bought in early 2007 and had operated for almost two years.
In that time, they had built a strong following with their down-home dishes, including pulled pork barbecue sandwiches, hearty breakfasts and quality steaks.
Dwight Crumpacker, a retired firefighter, said the Saddle Up was always full of customers because the food was good.
“The gravy he has. It’s good. It’s a great place to eat. These folks worked hard for it,” he said during lunch with his wife, Caren.
Weekend specials will include prime rib and baby back ribs cooked in White’s own 500-gallon smoker. The pulled pork sandwich meat, a daily menu item, also comes from the smoker.
The Saddle Up offers lighter dishes for people watching their diets.
The main dining room is warm and cozy with a western d?cor. The tables have knobby wooden posts for legs. The ceiling is done in natural, tongue-and-groove wood and naturally finished wainscoting covers the lower walls.
At one end is a stone fireplace built from rocks the Whites collected in the nearby mountains.
The construction was done with professional quality, and the building is virtually new. The Whites lifted the roof and added an upstairs room for banquets and group events.
Among the people who donated generous amounts of time were Harold Scofield, Mike Gardner and Ron Dayton, all of the area.
The help came after the restaurant’s fire insurance policy failed to cover the full cost of restoration. Insurance paid off a private business loan but little else, White said.
Bankers told him the restaurant business was too risky for another loan.
To raise some money and keep in contact with customers, White held outdoor barbecues on Fridays and Saturdays.
Eventually, a couple he knew quietly offered financing on a private loan. They are among his loyal customers.
His mechanical contractor donated a furnace. Another skilled worker donated an etched rock centerpiece for the fireplace mantle.
“I’m glad to see you open. It’s been a long time,” said customer Peter LaMarca, who stopped by to say hello.
“I had doubts at times,” White said, “but I had to stay focused. I’m trying not to get emotional. â€¦ I couldn’t give in. I had to just finish it.”
“We’re hoping and praying for good times.”
Back in business
The Saddle Up Grill Steakhouse on Highway 54 in Athol will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays.