RISING FROM THE ASHES: Alexander’s Deli owners are making plans to restore business after fire

Six weeks after the middle-of-the-night Feb. 12 fire that closed the doors of Alexander’s Deli, owners Tim and Betsy Alexander were finally ready to announce this week that plans are underway to restore and reopen one of this community’s most popular dining and gathering places.

On Tuesday morning, sitting in the cab of son Ryan’s pickup truck—which does double-duty as an impromptu office—Tim Alexander unveiled a tentative floor plan, drawn up with the help of Steve Johnson, who owns a local design and construction business. While the plan may change, and the rebuilding may have to be done in phases, it seems Alexander’s will, indeed, rise from the ashes.

The tragic fire that started in a dryer in the back storage room, and which destroyed most of the store’s fixtures, has given the Alexanders a chance to re-imagine the 30-year-old business and to make a few improvements. In its latest rendering, the plan blends the old, familiar feel of Al’s—with its serving area, soda fountain, coolers, and yes, chicken-strip fryer—with a few new features, like a drive-up window and two public restrooms.

All that remains of the store itself is an empty, but structurally-sound, hull. Smoke still clings to the salvaged shelving and few remaining fixtures that have been hauled outside—their future usefulness still in doubt.

Inside, the overhead wiring and duct-work are gone—damaged beyond repair by heat or smoke, or both. Tim points to the smoke-charred girders in the back half of the now-gutted building, explaining that they will be replaced once the roof is removed. He doesn’t worry about the gaping hole it will leave. There’s really nothing left inside to protect from the unpredictable miscellany of wind, rain, snow, or sunshine that afflicts the Texas Panhandle.

A crew is already at work, dismantling the roof. The tell-tale sounds of demolition—impact drills and metal-on-metal—make conversation difficult.

What becomes clear, though, is that after a soul-searching few weeks, and a few difficult conversations with insurance adjusters and accountants, the Alexanders are ready to bring revive their business. The decision has not been an easy one.

Tim calls the last two or three months “our turn in the barrel,” enumerating several events that have tested their resolve. But the response of this community—and of the greater community, well beyond the city limits—has had its own restorative effect.

A benefit fund established by well-wishers at Happy State Bank has received generous donations from friends and strangers, alike. That has enabled the Alexanders to help their 18 employees, who were—at least temporarily—without jobs, and unable to support their families.

A few spontaneously-organized weekend projects, in which friends simply appeared with work gloves and tools in hand, have also helped inspire the couple’s decision to bring the store back to life.

All of that—and a colorful message from three-year-old Hallie Mann (in photo at top), accompanied by the message, “Feel Better Alexanders”—helped tip the scales. Alexander’s will be back. Timeline: Two to three months, Tim says, optimistically.

No matter how long it takes, Alexander’s customers will eagerly await.

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