GRAND RIVERS -- As fall approaches, crews are hard at work restoring Patti's 1880's Settlement to its former glory in time for an October reopening date.
The rebuilding of the Grand Rivers restaurant and tourist attraction following a February 2018 electrical fire that destroyed its kitchen, office and iconic Patti's dining room has been a long process for the management team.
"There's good moments and rough moments, but every day it's getting closer. When you take people through to see it they say, 'This feels like Patti's,'" said owner Chip Tullar. "That's what I was trying to make happen. We're used to something that's so old and then all of the sudden you have to reproduce it to code. It's really exciting and fun to see it come alive again."
Tullar optimistically set Oct. 1 as an opening date, though it will likely be sometime in mid-to-late October before the restaurant is fully open. Soft opening dates are expected and, right now, the focus is on filling out the staff and completing construction work.
Ann Martin, Patti's director of marketing and public relations, is hoping the restoration process brings the magic back to Grand Rivers.
"We're putting cedar on the inside, bringing back the tables that were in there before and the stained glass. The girls will be in their dresses and the guys will be in their overalls," she said. "We're trying to bring it back as much as we can to the way it was before."
When completed, the new space will be able to seat 400 diners at a time and allow for more private dining options, as well as increased handicap accessibility.
The restaurant's kitchen will also be getting an overhaul, expanding and updating its capabilities. Though the menu will hold the same offerings as before -- including the institution's legendary one-inch pork chop -- Patti's also plans to begin serving alcohol upon reopening.
Tullar compared the kitchen remodel to updating from a 1950s Cadillac to a 2020 model: "It'll take a little getting used to, but it's a heck of a ride."
The owner has been holding back on social media updates of the rebuilding process in hopes of producing more of a wow factor when people come back.
"I'm creating this magnificent present, and we're going to cut the ribbon together and let everyone come see pretty soon. My mother in heaven is happy, happy, happy."
For the community surrounding Patti's, it's been a long 19 months.
"With it being down, of course, everyone has seen a decline in business to a certain degree," Brian McDonald, executive director of tourism for Grand Rivers, said. "The excitement around them reopening is going to generate more interest in Grand Rivers and get people back in town."
In December 2017 -- just two months before the fire -- the restaurant served 56,622 customers, according to Tullar. Since the fire, tourism activity in the city, McDonald estimates, has dropped 20 percent overall.
"I can't tell you how excited we are. It's been a long dry spell without them. They're not just a restaurant, they're a destination," Grand Rivers Mayor Tom Moodie told the Sun. "When you're a small town of 350 people and you have a business that draws in 500,000 people a year it's a pretty big loss to deal with for two years or so."
The losses aren't just in the tourism department. The Grand Rivers Water Department, the city's municipally owned utility, alone has lost out on north of $200,000 over the course of the closure.
In the months since the fire, the timeline has been fluid but Tullar has remained adamant about getting open for the holidays.
"We certainly do look forward to the public getting to see us again. I've got to get it open so the kids can come and see Santa," the owner said. "We want to put smiles on their faces and good, home-cooked meals in their bellies. It'll be just like it was before, only I think the food might be better."
Martin hopes for the restaurant to announce a concrete opening date soon and to begin accepting reservations by the end of September.
To keep in the loop on progress at Patti's 1880's Settlement, watch the restaurant's social media feeds or visit www.pattis1880s.com.