It burned to the ground in June, but it appears you can’t keep an iconic fried chicken and green tomato restaurant down.
The owners of the Bulloch House, which went up in flames June 10 in nearby Warm Springs, Ga., said Wednesday they are reopening in a temporary location, hopefully by Nov. 1, until a new structure can be built on the property where the destroyed restaurant once operated. But that major rebuild project will take time and money.
“With rebuilding the Bulloch House, the insurance company hasn’t even released it yet, so that’s going to be at least one or two years down the road,” said Peter Lampert, who owns the land where the historic home now is in ruins. The price tag would also be steep.
“You can only do a replica, because it was 120 years old,” Lampert said. “Of course, with the new technology, we could make it economically better and smaller, and smaller meaning we really wouldn’t need a top floor. The six rooms upstairs were actually only storage for us. Nobody could go up there. But, still, you’re talking $2 million.”
On Wednesday morning, however, the focus was all on the “temporary” location inside the former Victorian Tea Room space that has been vacant about three years. Crews were checking under the floors of the downtown building, and also planning to do work on display areas to bring them up to city building code.
The new restaurant, if it opens by Nov. 1 as anticipated, will seat 240 customers when the outdoor deck is added into the mix, said Lampert, who wants to enclose that portion of the eatery. That’s the same number of seats in the old Bulloch House.
He said all 30 employees should be back on the job as well, with the menu at the new spot having the same items as the former location.
“It’s going to be the same and, hopefully, even better,” he said.
The Lamperts also plan to move the gift shop they had operated at the Bulloch House into a downtown space once known as Canterbury’s Shop, a block from their temporary eatery.
News of the restaurant revival has left Warm Springs Mayor Bob Prater feeling somewhat giddy and virtually in the holiday spirit.
“It feels like Christmas in September,” he said of the new eatery that will fill the economic hole left by the historic dwelling that burned in the middle of the night, possibly started by lightning. “The city of Warm Springs was devastated when we heard of the fire because the Bulloch House had become a primary engine for the economy.”
The Bulloch House was known for its Southern-style cooking, which included crispy fried chicken, hamburger steak, chicken and dumplings, fried green tomatoes, creamed potatoes, black-eyed peas, mac and cheese and turnip greens — all served via buffet stations.
The eatery, located in Meriwether County about 40 miles northeast of Columbus, served as a culinary hub for local residents of Warm Springs, as well as tourists visiting its attractions, which include President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Little White House Historic Site and the nearby F.D. Roosevelt State Park.
“The Bulloch House was a destination,” the mayor said Wednesday. “A lot of people would say: I’m going to Warm Springs to see the Little White House and eat at the Bulloch House.”
That visitation included plenty of tour buses, which would stop at the restaurant because it could handle larger numbers of hungry customers. Those buses have become noticeably fewer since the fire, said Prater, and those buses that do come are simply visiting the historic presidential site, then heading to Pine Mountain or LaGrange for restaurant dining.
“Not having the Bulloch House has really hurt us because many days I drive through and there’s no one on the streets anymore, whereas we’re used to having a good many people here,” he said.
That’s why the mayor is confident the new eatery being opened by the Lamperts will make a big difference and help put feet back on the streets of Warm Springs, perhaps including those like faithful customer Laura Sartin, who posted a fond note on the restaurant’s Facebook page the day of its demise in June.
“The biscuits alone at the Bulloch House were worth the trip,” she wrote. “Also the fried green tomatoes with relish and the chocolate fudge cake. Sitting on the front enclosed porch with friends and great food is a memory I won’t forget.”
The Bulloch House dates to 1893. That’s the year it was constructed by Benjamin F. Bulloch, co-founder of Bullochville, the previous name of Warm Springs. The Bulloch family had a major role in developing the town, which now has a population of about 500 people. The structure has had several owners throughout its history, with the Lamperts buying it in 2011.