WARM SPRINGS, Ga. — An early morning fire on Wednesday destroyed an iconic restaurant that was a part of this Meriwether County town’s large tourist draw.
The Bulloch House, known for its traditional Southern cooking and fried chicken served buffet style, went up in flames shortly after midnight. Located in an historic old home, the restaurant was a total loss, said Warm Springs Fire Chief Alfons Pynenburg.
“This is a huge loss,” Pynenburg said Wednesday morning as he was still at the scene. “We have a lot of attractions in Warm Springs, but this was one of our claims to fame.”
The fire also left a hole in the economy of Warm Springs, a town of less than 500, said Mayor Robert Prater.
“It was the only restaurant in town that could accommodate bus traffic,” Prater said.
The primary tourist attractions in Warm Springs are President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Little White House and the FDR State Park.
“You would have church and school groups book a tour of the Little White House, then they would book lunch at the Bulloch House,” Prater said.
The restaurant employs more than 15 people.
“It is not just the jobs at the restaurant that will be impacted,” Prater said. “It is also the jobs in the shops downtown.”
The Bulloch House was a part of the town’s rich history. The house was built in 1893 by Benjamin F. Bulloch, cofounder of Bullochville, which is now Warm Springs. He, his brother and a cousin owned and operated Bulloch, Bussey and Company, playing a prominent role in the history and development of the town.
The home was purchased in 1990 by Judy Foster and Charles and Sylvia Garrett, at which time it was renovated into the restaurant, according to the website. The restaurant is now owned by Peter and Sandy Lampert, who purchased the property in March 2011.
People were surveying the remains much of Wednesday. One of those was Rob Johnson, 46, a lifelong Warm Springs resident whose family operated Hosey’s Barbecue on Highway 80.
“This was a tourist destination,” Johnson said. “People would come here by the busloads to visit the Little White House, and they would come to the Bulloch House.”
Johnson pointed out that those people shopped in the nearby stores and contributed to the Warm Springs economy.
“You would drive by and the parking lot would be full,” he said. “But we are resilient.”
Bruce Grant, 43, said he’s an employee who began working at the Bulloch restaurants in February. He was off Tuesday and scheduled to work Wednesday. His girlfriend called him at 6 a.m. to tell him about the fire. She saw it on Facebook.
“I live right down the road and didn’t hear the sirens or anything. It’s heartbreaking,” Grant said. “This place employed a lot of people, not just me, a lot of people have worked here a long time and depended on this place. It was like a great big family.
“Peter is a really good guy. I really feel for him.”
Fire personnel spent most of Wednesday at the scene.
The fire call came about 1:05 a.m., Pynenburg said. It took more than three hours to bring the blaze under control and trucks from Manchester and Pine Mountain responded.
“We don’t know how it started, but we think we know the general area where it started,” Pynenburg said. “It looks like to started in the kitchen area.”
The mayor said the impact of losing the restaurant won’t just impact the tourists and jobs.
“We have a few restaurants, but it was the only one open on Friday and Saturday nights and on Sunday after church,” Prater said.