A fire at a local business can cause a lot of pain.
Regular customers and visitors lose a place to go, owners lose revenue and have to bear the cost of repairs and, during an extended closure, employees run the risk of losing their jobs.
One Galveston restaurant is trying to turn what could have been a tragedy into something positive.
The fire at Miller’s Seawall Grill, 1824 Seawall Blvd., occurred about 7 a.m. July 17. What started as a grease fire in the kitchen spread into the building’s air conditioning system and then caught the roof on fire, said Sherry Smith, the restaurant’s general manager.
The Galveston Fire Department arrived within 90 seconds. But the flames and the smoke, the soot and the water did its damage. The restaurant, which has been open since 1976, is closed for repairs and won’t reopen until next month, Smith said.
For the restaurant’s 42 employees, the days after the fire were filled with anxiety. But during the first staff meeting after the fire, owner Donal Clark announced good news: All the employees would keep their jobs until the restaurant reopened.
There was one catch: in order to earn their paychecks, the employees would have to volunteer at local nonprofits for at least 12 hours a week.
The reaction from the employees was “phenomenal,” Smith said.
“He’s always been that way,” Smith said. “He’s always giving, he’s always had a big heart.”
Clark could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
For the next two months, at least, Miller’s employees will work at nonprofits, including the Ronald McDonald House, the Galveston Humane Society, the Sunshine Center and the Resource and Crisis Center of Galveston County.
Their new assignments were welcoming news, employees said.
“I’ve been in the restaurant business my entire adult life and I have never run across owners of a restaurant ever that have come up with a solution like this,” said Marianne Buggey, a server who has worked at Miller’s Seawall Grill for the past eight months.
“I was amazed,” she said.
Buggey is one of five staff members who is volunteering at the Resource and Crisis Center, a domestic violence service in Galveston. Buggey was excited to give back to the community, something she normally doesn’t get a lot of time to do while working at a restaurant, she said.
“It’s been an eye-opener for me,” she said. “When you realize the scope of what they do here, it’s incredible.”
The nonprofits appreciate the extra help.
Stephanie Carmona, the executive director of the Sunshine Center, called the restaurant’s plan “wonderful.”
“We’ll definitely take advantage of it,” she said.
The center offers programs for adults with developmental disabilities and just happens to be around the corner from the restaurant, Carmona said. The center welcomes volunteers from a variety of places, including high schools and colleges and other local companies, she said.
While some of those places offer incentives for volunteering, she never heard of a business requiring volunteering as a condition of employment, she said.
Miller’s Seawall Employees must sign in at their volunteer jobs and report their hours back to the restaurant to be compensated.
Most of the restaurant’s employees were enthusiastic about the volunteer requirement, and she thought most, if not all, would take up the offer, Buggey said.
“It was not a big request and I hope I can continue on in some capacity after they reopen,” she said.