The night of July 8, 2017, started a journey John Jermstad, owner of Birch Lodge, said he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy.
At 4 a.m. a passerby noticed smoke coming from Birch Lodge, at 732 Michigan St NE, and immediately called 911. Before Grand Rapids firefighters arrived the bar’s kitchen was fully engulfed.
Jermstad said 10 more minutes and the building may have been lost. Instead, firefighters were able to battle the flames and keep the building from becoming a total loss.
This morning, as Jermstad and his staff prepared for the reopening of Birch Lodge, taking place this afternoon, the bar looked nearly identical to how it looked on July 7. There are new TVs and the tables and bar have a noticeable shine to them, but other than that, customers will return to the same neighborhood spot they’ve enjoyed since Jermstad bought the bar 18-years ago.
Jermstad said over the past 10 months he worked with crews to restore the bar to its original state. The kitchen was completely rebuilt and the front bar and seating area were gutted and redone due to smoke damage.
“The wheel’s not broken,” he said, noting he didn’t see the need to make any major changes to the bar, which has always been a popular neighborhood spot and he expects it will be once again.
As customers trickle back into Birch Lodge they’ll also notice several familiar faces. Jermstad said 90 percent of his staff has returned. The menu will also be the same, though Jermstad said he plans to introduce a new menu in the fall.
Birch Lodge plans to reopen this afternoon around 3 p.m., barring any issues with its final inspection this morning. Jermstad said the kitchen will also reopen this evening around 5 p.m.
Jermstad said he was grateful the bar was closed and that no one was hurt during the fire. He also noted the community support was important to him and especially to his employees. Local bars The Apartment Lounge and Flatlanders helped his staff through fundraising efforts and a loyal customer started a Go Fund me to help staff get through the initial weeks following the fire.
“Every little bit helped for them,” he said. “The community really came together for us.”
Going forward, Jermstad said he plans to put the past 10 months behind him. “The experience has been a long journey and I’m not going to look back on. I’m just going to look forward,” he said.