LIMA — Main Street Bistro’s destruction by fire Tuesday was only the latest in a long string of business ruined by fire in Lima. A look back at some of the bigger events:
Old Barn Out Back
In the 1970s, the Brothers Four Country Store on West Elm Street was owned and operated by brothers Dave, Tom, Melvin and Bob Williams. The wholesale end of the business operated at 129 S. Central Ave. as Fruit Distributors, which was started by their father, Herman, in 1932, according to a newspaper story from June 11, 1978. The brothers were in the news because they announced plans to open a restaurant in a barn just behind the store.
The brothers had seen a barn made over as restaurant on a visit to Kansas, loved the idea and set out to make it here.
The purchased a barn on North Cole Street south of Diller in 1976 and started dismantling it to move to Elm Street.
“The barn turned restaurant includes aged wood from the original barn built in 1865 by John William Rothe, a German immigrant to Allen County,” a June 24, 1979, story reported. “‘The barn was taken apart piece of piece and numbered. The roof first then the siding and then the pegs were pulled from the frame,’ according to Anthony.”
The restaurant featured a Hayloft Buffet on Fridays and Saturdays and its now-famous Sunday buffet. The hours were 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays.
All was well until 1984, when lightning struck.
A few employees were baking in the kitchen at about 4 a.m. when they noticed sparks coming out of an electrical outlet. A firewall constructed to separate the old barn from the new-construction kitchen prevented them from seeing the hayloft was on fire until the fire was out of control, an April 27, 1984, story reported.
The workers hurried out, and firefighters hurried in. Extra firefighters were called off the scene of another barn fire at the same time on Sherrick Road to help, but it was no good. The damage was estimated at $500,000.
Just a few months later, the Old Barn Out Back was the recipient of a $155,000 Ohio Department of Development block grant — on the grounds of creating 15 jobs and retaining 87 others. The business also benefited from a $50,000 matching loan from the Allen County commissioners.
The Williams family planned to rebuild.
“We can never replace the 120-year-old barn as it was but we feel we can build a restaurant with the same relaxed country atmosphere and home-style cooking as was the characteristic of the original Old Barn,” a Sept. 11, 1984, reported.
Building a 19,000-square-foot barn outfitted to look old cost $700,000. It opened in June 1985. By 1990, Mel Williams was the sole owner, and it was transferred to current owner Pete Williams in 2004.
Beef and Bourbon/Twist and Shout
The former White Birch Inn opened as the Beef and Bourbon on 3801 Shawnee Road in late 1990. Siblings Susan Fassett and Dan Risser owned and operated the restaurant, billed as a steakhouse featuring black angus beef.
“Lima could use another fine dining establishment,” Fassett said in a Nov. 27, 1990, story.
In addition to the main dining area, the restaurant featured a private dining room for meetings and a lounge with dance floor. The dance area was known as Twist and Shout and became a popular night club, operating late into the evenings after the restaurant had closed for the day.
In 2006, a passing motorist alerted officials to fire at the building. Shawnee Township firefighters battled the fire for three hours, according to an Oct. 13, 2006, story. Owner Dan Risser said in that story that he had closed the business for the night that weekday and was on his way home when he was contacted about the fire.
The restaurant side of the building was most heavily damaged, but no cause was ever determined. Damages were estimated at $1 million, and the business has not reopened since.
The building at 415 W. Market St. was first a residence that dated to Lima’s oil-rich days. It was remodeled to be The Lima Club in the early 1900s, a club for those who wished to promote Lima. Through the years, it was put to use for many different things.
In 1957, the Guagenti family bought the house and set to remodeling it for a restaurant. The Milano Club opened in late 1960 to much fanfare. Tony Pastor and his two sons were set to be the floorshow for the week-long opening celebration. The building itself — with valet parking, coat check, Italian marble fountain in the foyer — was eye-popping.
“Decorations in the club are ideas by a Chicago interior decorator, incorporating the joint ideas of Frank Guagenti and his sons Joseph and Donnie, all co-owners,” reported a Nov. 27, 1960, story. “Furnishings of gold leather and walnut chairs are set against a background of a tapestry-like cut velvet wall covering and chairs and tables in other parts of the room are in a deep red and walnut finish.”
Included in those early stories is a pronunciation guide: “... and for the convenience of patrons, Guagenti is pronounced Gwa-jen-tee.”
Several pages of newsprint were devoted to explaining the 20,000-square-foot building. It had several different dining areas, each named. The Sirloin Room was less fancy, where you would be seated if you weren’t dressed properly. (Men needed ties and jackets, and women needed proper dresses, not just skirts and blouses.)
The featured area was the Continental Room, featuring strolling guitarists and violinists. The Riviera Room — the house’s former front porch — originally had kelly-green carpet, white walls and a sunken bar. The facility’s second floor held private meeting rooms, and the third floor was a ballroom.
There were three chefs and 70 employees on staff.
In 1963, the Guagentis announced plans for a $75,000 addition. A large dining room was added to the front of the building. It featured black carara marble on the exterior and, inside, a band stand and dance floor.
It was the place to see and be seen. The Guagentis even went so far in 1966 as to display the steer they bought at the Ohio State Fair in the alley by the restaurant. (It went for $7,339.75.) The 935-pound grand champion black angus was the main course for a “feast” planned with Gov. James Rhodes and his Cabinet serving 600 diners.
But in 1996, it came to an end.
“Members of the Guagenti family watched almost silently, some hugging, some wiping away tears, as the symbol of their ancestors, dreams and hard work billowed off into the downtown Lima sky Monday afternoon,” a story from July 30, 1996, reported.
A busboy reporting to work at about 4 p.m. that day smelled smoke and alerted officials. It was between mealtimes, so there were no customers to evacuate. Firefighters were inside for a time to fight the fire, but they were called out when the ceiling started to collapse. On the sidewalks outside, a crowd gathered to watch.
Later, the fire was ruled an accident. It had started in the third-floor ballroom, which was used for storage.
The Guagenti family did not rebuild, but continues on in the restaurant business today.