FENWICK — After a devastating fire in August, the Catch 54 restaurant in Fenwick Island just west of the Fenwick Ditch is steadily emerging from the ground and is on schedule for a spring 2012 opening.
Around 8:30 p.m. on Aug. 2, a fire ripped through the popular Catch 54 restaurant in Fenwick Island during the height of a summer dinner rush, but potential tragedy was averted when the hundreds of diners at the establishment were safely evacuated with no injuries. Firefighters from Fenwick, Ocean City, Bethany and Roxana battled the blaze for nearly an hour as flames and smoke filled the late evening sky over the resort area.
The fire, later blamed on an overheated piece of kitchen equipment, consumed much of the restaurant’s second floor before it was brought under control. By the next morning, the charred rafters of the building’s second floor etched an eerie reminder of the near tragedy the night before and plates of food and drinks were still visible on the tables where the evacuated patrons had left them.
Thanks to a calm, orderly evacuation, none of the hundreds of patrons or employees were hurt, but the building was later deemed a total loss. Gone was the remainder of the busy summer season and Catch 54 was ultimately razed, but a new restaurant is now emerging on the same site and promised to be a vast improvement on the prior structure.
“If I could go back, I obviously wouldn’t want to have our restaurant burn down at the height of the season, but we were very fortunate nobody was hurt and very thankful for the fire departments and the emergency responders who helped us,” said Matt Haley of SoDel Concepts, which owns and operates several other restaurants in the area. “We now have an opportunity to resurrect the restaurant, which will be bigger and better than ever.”
This week, the new restaurant’s foundation was poured and the first floor was under construction. Haley said depending on the weather, the entire structure could be under roof by next month, setting the table, so to speak, for the vast interior changes.
“After the fire, we got thousands of comments from well-wishers and about what they liked or didn’t necessarily like in Catch 54’s design and we’re using a lot of that input on the new design,” said Haley. “The new restaurant was designed by us and includes the same kind of look that our other restaurants have.”
The new Catch 54 will feature some additional square footage and reconfigured interiors including dining rooms on both the first and second floor. The second floor bar and dining room will open to an outside seating area. All of the interior dining spaces will be insulated for year-round use.
“The old south dining room was basically a trailer, but all of the new spaces are going to be fully enclosed with heating and air-conditioning,” he said. “It will be much more versatile in the off-season and will allow us more flexibility with banquets and off-season events.”
With its stunning waterfront views across the bay in practically every direction, the new Catch 54 will make great use of the vistas, according to Haley.
“We’re using the same basic footprint, but we’re rearranging the design to make the best use of the space,” he said. “The old restaurant didn’t really take advantage of the site’s best feature, which is the awesome views, but the new design will feature panoramic views on three sides.”
The new design also will also take advantage of improved interior spaces.
“It’s almost being built as two restaurants, one downstairs and one upstairs,” he said. “It’s going to be completely accessible with an elevator and a fireplace, but the coolest new feature is a huge, six-foot wide spiral staircase that goes up to the second floor from right behind the hostess station.”