Visitors at this weekend’s Country Fall Festival in Zelienople will find the Kaufman House still closed a year after a grease fire damaged the landmark restaurant. There is still no timetable for when the restaurant might reopen.
ZELIENOPLE — It’s been a year since the Kaufman House closed its doors because of a grease fire, and an owner of the landmark restaurant said Thursday there’s still no timetable on if or when the establishment will open again. Karen McNulty said her father Ken is still entangled in a legal battle with the business’ insurance provider, a battle that is “taking a toll” on the man who’s owned the restaurant since 1974. McNulty added the last year has been “pretty crappy” for the family, but remained resolved her father isn’t simply going to let the business go away. “He’s going to keep fighting for it,” she said. “He’s not going to just walk away. He’s not going to lie down and forget about it. The Kaufman House was his life.” McNulty said her father, 71, tries to “take everything in stride” but has still had a hard time adjusting to the current situation. “In my dad’s head and heart he’d love for it to come back,” McNulty said. “But the reality is that we just can’t answer that right now. It would be great if it could come back and we are holding out hope. But there’s just no guarantee.” It was a year ago on Friday that McNulty stood in front of the Kaufman House in tears as fire crews used chain saws to search for any hot spots or additional fire in the walls. A grease fire severely damaged the kitchen in the fire, while estimates of damage ranged upward of $200,000. At the time, McNulty said she couldn’t offer a timeline on when the restaurant would be back, but said everyone involved in the Kaufman House is like a family and they would be back at some point. A year later, she’s not so sure. “Right now our hands are tied and we’re waiting for some answers,” she said. “My dad talks to his attorney once a week. Things have been moving but what happens next, no one knows.” McNulty said her entire family is well aware of what the Kaufman House means to Zelienople, which makes the uncertainty surrounding the business even harder to accept. “The hard thing is that my dad feels a responsibility to the community, but there’s nothing he can do,” she said. “He’d give anything to be back there.” Perhaps the only thing that’s remained constant over the past year is the community support and outreach from residents. McNulty said a young girl set up a lemonade stand over the summer to raise anything she could. She still gets phone calls and well wishes on a regular basis, even if there is nothing to report in the way of progress. “We just want to thank the community for hanging in there with us,” she said. “If we had an answer we’d give it.” Zelienople manager Don Pepe said Thursday it’s not just the restaurant’s owners who miss the business being open, and the closing of the Kaufman House has a ripple effect of sorts on surrounding businesses. “It’s been very, very, very difficult and truthfully, it’s hurt the whole town,” he said. “There’s no question about that. And it’s hard to think one business can do that, but it does.” The entire ordeal remains a “difficult and terrible situation,” Pepe said. “I’m not saying the Kaufman House is irreplaceable,” he said, “but in terms of the affect its closing has had, its affecting everyone.” Jennifer Ackerman, the executive director of the Zelienople-Harmony Area Chamber of Commerce, said there’s no doubt the Kaufman House’s closure has had a negative impact on the borough. She said she’s had plenty of people contact her regarding the restaurant, people from outside the area who forget the name of the business and only refer to it as the “big red restaurant that’s so great.” It’s happened several times, Ackerman said. She has to break the news to people that the Kaufman House has been closed for a year. “Everyone wants to know if I’ve heard anything as far as if it’s going to reopen or its status,” she said. “But I don’t know much more than anyone else right now.”