NEWMAN - A popular Newman restaurant heavily damaged by fire will rebuild and reopen, its owner pledged earlier this week.

Erwin Ravago, who has worked at The Grille since 2006 and purchased the business little more than a year ago, told Mattos Newspapers that bringing the restaurant back is the only fitting response to the overwhelming community support he has received since the April 28 fire.

“I could not be more grateful to live in Newman,” he reflected. “People did things for us on their own to help. They just did it.”

Ravago and his staff had successfully transitioned to operating under the COVID-19 restrictions which limited the Fresno Street restaurant to take-out orders.

“We were actually doing okay, better than what we had expected,” he shared.

Little more than two weeks ago fire heavily damaged the building, causing an estimated $250,000 in damage and displacing Ravago not only from his business but the apartment over the restaurant where he lived.

That evening, Ravago shared, he was upstairs at his computer working on systems to expedite orders and to allow on-line ordering when he heard a change in the sound of a blower in the hood ventilation system.

“I have listened to that blower for 14 years. When it changed, I was alarmed. I went to the back window and saw smoke,” Ravago told Mattos Newspapers. “I am still baffled that I didn’t smell the smoke.”

He tried without success to extinguish the flames.

In the aftermath, Ravago said, he was humbled by the enormous outpouring of support and by those who shared their thoughts on The Grille’s importance in the fabric of the community.

The Grille has long been a place where regulars gather over morning coffee or for lunch, or to enjoy one of the dinner services offered twice a eatery serving up classic comfort food in a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere.

COVID-19 had already imparted changes when the fire struck. Ravago and his remaining crew of five employees adapted by adding new, creative menu items to complement the standard fare while also focusing on safety.

“That place was already a sense of normalcy for all of us. It was already being rearranged by COVID-19,” he commented. “We tried to be creative with the menu, and we got creative on how to interact every day. It was no longer the norm. The challenge was to find an alternative for what we lost.”

Ravago said Tuesday he does not yet have a time frame for reopening the restaurant.

There will be upgrades to the facilities to make it more efficient, he explained, but he will retain the unique atmosphere of the restaurant.

“You know that you are at The Grille when you walk in,” he pointed out.

Challenges, he reflected, sometimes bring opportunities and new ideas.

“We are going to rock it,” Ravago promised of the rebuilt restaurant.