With police and fire crews still investigating the weekend fire that resulted in major damage to the landmark ice cream hangout, Countryside Restaurant owner Bill Kao spoke with Emmaus Patch about the fire and his immediate plans.
Kao emphasized that he is NOT the owner of the building in which Countryside resided. He simply leased the space.
Jim Hilston has been the property owner for the past three years, Kao says, and will be working with police officials and insurance agents as the investigation continues. At this time, the location is considered a crime scene, Kao says.
According to Kao, two cash registers were displaced and $200 was missing. Interestingly, he added, the T.V., laptop and other valuables, which were stored inside the restaurant, remained as of Saturday morning when the fire was finally extinguished.
“We had about $2,000 worth of ice cream and $1,000 worth of food in there, because it was supposed to be a nice weekend,” Kao said.
He added that they had just stocked up because the summer season is about to begin. Plus, he had also ordered extra supplies to get a head start at the Emmaus location, the Creamery on Main.
Now he'll be ordering again.
Kao continued: “Going into the peak season, we’re going to lose a lot now. We pretty much do all of our business from April through October. Those months pretty much support the winter, because we don't do much business during the winter. The summer months really help carry the winter months.”
With winter expenses looming and no revenue being generated at the Countryside location, Kao said they’re going to have to “fast-track” the Emmaus property.
“Until we figure out what the claims are doing and how long it's going it to take, my bills are still coming in, and I still need to pay them. This is our only source of income,” Kao said. “The Creamery should help a little, but we're starting off in big hole.”
Countryside historically had been closed during winter months. However, Kao recently began the new tradition of keeping it open year-round.
“My wife said we reinvented Countryside. People know us, and that's why I'm so upset. It couldn't come at a worse time,” Kao said. “At first I was in shock. Now it’s the third day, and I’m just pissed off.”
One of the biggest blows was the loss of the soft serve ice cream machine. Kao had made a verbal agreement to purchase it from Hilston and had planned on moving it to the Emmaus location the Saturday of the fire. Kao said it would be a $23,000 expense to replace it, and getting the capital to do so will take some time.
“Now we'll open without the soft serve machine, but we'll have all the hard flavored ice cream. It will probably take some time until I can get the money. Those things are expensive!” he said.
Kao plans to have 18-25 flavors of hard ice cream when the Creamery opens. “We're still going to have flurries, milkshakes, sundaes, banana splits and ice cream floats,” he added.
Kao went on to say that his current staff will be working at the Creamery on Main with an opening date of June 1 if all goes as planned.
“It kind of occupies me and helps alleviate some of the expenses that are incurred while we're waiting for the next step,” he said.
The encouraging news was that the Creamery passed all of its required health inspections passed over the weekend, so the only step left is for the fire chief to come in and check everything, according to Kao.
“I'm going to have him triple check everything! My employees are ready and waiting to go to work,” Kao said.
Kao emphasized that he gains nothing from the fire at Countryside. “People think I own the building, and I don’t,” he clarified.