PORT ORCHARD — In a matter of seconds, Shari Patrick’s world was upended, then turned upside down.
Around 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 18, a freak tornado hit the East Port Orchard area with winds of up to 130 miles per hour. Among the casualties was the Bethel Square restaurant and lounge — her business of 22 years — that suffered significant damage and was forced to close. Nearly a year later, the business owner plans to reopen the establishment in late November under a new name — Ruby Slipper Bar & Grill.
The December freak weather incident, determined by meteorologists to have been an EF-2 tornado, dropped from the skies just before 2 p.m., on Dec 18. The tornado traveled 1.4 miles for about two minutes and did most of its damage to a residential neighborhood on Southeast Serenade Way, Harris Court and Tiburon Court. It downed power lines and damaged about 250 residences.
Some 50 commercial buildings in the commercial section of Bethel also were damaged, emergency response officials said. Luckily, no one was killed during the event and no significant injuries were reported.
“I was in the kitchen and heard this loud ruckus on the roof — like a tree fell on it. I ran to the front and saw debris flying past the windows. I had never been in a tornado and didn’t realize what was happening, I dropped behind the dessert display and waited. It lasted only a few seconds but it seemed like forever.”
Once the tornado passed, Patrick went outside. “There was no wind, it wasn’t dark and the sun was shining.”
Later, a customer told her the high winds ripped off the restaurant’s front sign, sending it 40 feet straight up into the air, then crashing into her SUV and totaling the vehicle.
Immediately after the storm, she was forced to evacuate the area due to concerns about gas leaks. Patrick got a visual look at the extent of damage to the business that night when she watched the television news.
‘I knew we were in trouble’
“It showed an aerial view of the restaurant and we saw we had lost the entire roof,” the business owner said.
“I knew we were in trouble. It was time for a cocktail.”
At the end of that tumultuous day, it slowly sank in that much work lay ahead. Still, Patrick determinedly knew she would re-open her small restaurant and lounge.
“There was no doubt in my mind,” she said nearly a year later. “Retirement is years away. There was no way I was going out because of a tornado.”
The restaurant has been the Port Orchard resident’s “pride and joy” for the past 22 years. Patrick has been in the restaurant field since age 15. She attended community college in Tacoma and looked into joining the real estate profession but she always returned to the foodservice industry.
“Many of the customers and staff are like family,” she related.
In the months since the closure, many customers have approached her on the street or in the grocery store and asked, “When are you going to open back up?”
Patrick smiled. “I never get tired of the question. If they didn’t ask, it means they forgot about you.”
In the end, it will have taken nearly a year for Patrick to repair and reopen the establishment. “The building was built in the ’70s. When we got into repairs, we discovered more problems,” she said.
For instance, when redoing the kitchen, contractors discovered that asbestos was used in the floor glue, which led to additional unexpected work, she reported.
But despite the delays and additional work, the business owner hasn’t tired of her quest to reopen. What she has missed most during the downtime is interacting with customers.
“I know most of them,” Patrick said. “Not being around them and my staff, you feel quite alone.”
About 80 percent of the staff will be returning to work, Patrick said. “We are close. We continued to get together during these months.”
To keep herself busy while business repairs were made, three months ago, Patrick took on a stint as a volunteer. She worked as a bartender at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) headquarters.
“It helped get me out of the house,” she said.
Reopening in November
But the long wait is nearly over. Next month, the reborn, renamed establishment should be opening its doors.
“We figured the new name tied into the tornado,” Patrick smiled. “We will not be ‘Wizard of Oz’-ish. That’s why the new logo features red Converse tennis shoes rather than ruby red slippers.”
The red tennis shoes better suits her restaurant’s customer base of construction and shipyard workers, she added.
The newly refurbished restaurant will still feature many of the items regulars have enjoyed for years, such as made-from-scratch pies and desserts, and hand-dipped fried chicken strips. Added to the menu will be homemade fried pickles and an array of vegan dishes.
“We are excited about our new identity. The storm enabled us to rebuild the restaurant, upgrade the fixtures and update the menu,” she said.
As for a reopening celebration, Patrick candidly reported: “To tell you the truth, I’m scared to death. I’ve purchased an operating restaurant but never had to put together a new one from scratch.
“So, it’s scary and at the same time, exciting. I know the regulars will be happy we are back. I hope and pray I do this right!”