More than 12 hours after a blaze gutted one of Conway’s most beloved landmarks, loyal customers and former employees of Stoby’s Restaurant were bombarding the Log Cabin Democrat social media sites with well wishes, prayers and an overwhelming rally of support, as the eatery is closed until further notice.
The breaking news coverage of the fire was shared more than 2,000 times from the Log Cabin Facebook page alone.
Ida Gardner was one of hundreds of commenters on Facebook with sentiments like, "Oh wow. A great part of history for Conway is gone."
But others were more hopeful.
"Maybe it isn’t a total loss. Great memories there," writes Linda Shock.
Owners David and Patti Stobaugh opened the restaurant at its current location in July 1980. They opened a second store in Russellville in 1984.In 2010, Stoby’s celebrated 30 years in Conway.
Whatever the reaction, a fire taking Stoby’s Conway out of commission, if even for a little while, has left it’s mark on a community of people who consider it a part of their lives.
"I feel like a part of me burned in that fire," RuthAnne Schedler commented.
"Nooooo!!!! I lived in Conway for 18 years and it’s automatically on the ‘to do’ list when I go back for visits. Loooove Stoby’s. So sad," writes Janet Janski.
"We will rebuild and reopen as quickly as possible," owner David Stobaugh said in a press release to the media Saturday evening.
"We have a responsibility to our employees and our customers. We don’t know yet how long it will take to repair the damage, but we’ll do it as quickly as possible so we can get back to doing what we love — feeding our community and providing a livelihood to an outstanding group of employees who we consider family. I ask for people to pray that God give Patti and me wisdom for all the decisions we now face in terms of the rebuilding."
Just after 6:30 a.m. Saturday, firefighters responded to the fire at a Stoby’s Conway, and by the time flames were under control just before 7 a.m., the scene at the northwest corner of Donaghey Avenue and Robinson Street was solemn.
"This is awful," said waitress Debbie Patrom through tears. "I am freaking out. I am scared."
The fire, witnesses say, started in the kitchen, in a vent hood above the grill.
"One of our breakfast cooks was frying chips," Stobaugh told the Log Cabin Democrat on the scene. "She saw a drip of fire come down from the hood. The fire suppression system went off, but what is a mystery is that she says it was water and it was supposed to be foam. We have a current inspection on it. My first thought when I got the call was that the suppression system would have put out [the fire] pretty quickly."
Pam Smith, the cook who saw the first flames, said the drip of flame fell and hit an egg crate and it caught fire.
"The suppression system did go off, but it did look like water to me," she said, burying her head in a coworker’s chest in a hug.
There was one customer in the restaurant when the fire started and, according to Patrom, four employees. All made it out of the building safely.
"The damage to the restaurant is extensive," Stobaugh said in the press release.
No official cause of the fire has been determined.
Fire chief Mike Winter was on the scene Saturday morning. He had not been inside the structure at the time of this interview, but told the Log Cabin he, too, was saddened by the blaze.
"This place is an icon. It is hard to believe. This is not the way you want to wake up on a Saturday morning," he said.
Patrom, who has been a waitress at Stoby’s for 20 years, was making an effort to call as many staff members as she could think to from her cell phone.
"I just cannot believe this is happening," she said. "I just cannot believe this."
In the media release, Stobaugh said, "Fortunately, none of our employees were harmed. Patti and I are blessed to have created something that’s such an integral part of so many people’s lives and are blessed to consider all of our customers part of the Stoby’s family."
PattiCakes Bakery, which sits behind the Stoby’s structure and shares a parking lot, was unaffected by the fire.
American Idol winner Kris Allen endorsed Stoby’s on national TV when he said that the restaurant was one of his favorite places to eat.
When Allen came to Conway for concerts, Stoby’s was one of the places that he stopped by.
Stoby’s does work in the community and at least twice a month, the restaurant hosts a pancake breakfast where nonprofit organizations come in and sell tickets and get the proceeds from the meal.
"One of my favorite parts of owning the restaurant is hearing how many lives have been impacted by what we have here, how many marriages started with first dates here, how many fundraisers have supported local organizations. … I never would have guessed how far-reaching the restaurant would become," Stobaugh said Saturday.
The Log Cabin will follow this story as it develops.