How to Rebuild When Your Business Literally Burns to the Ground

How to Rebuild When Your Business Literally Burns to the Ground

Jesse Freese was asleep in bed in April 2018 when she heard the loud thud, thud, thud, thud of her husband Jake’s boots bolting up the stairs. It was an odd sound for their household; they never wear shoes inside.

But before she had a chance to think much about it, there was Jake’s face, white as a sheet, hovering over her. “He just said, ‘Fergie’s is on fire. Do you want to say goodbye?’” she recalls. “And then he was just gone.”

Shocked and still processing, she jumped out of bed and went down the street from their Squamish, British Columbia home to Sunwolf, the property of rustic cabins that the British couple bought and now operates together. And there was Fergie’s—their small onsite restaurant, beloved for its brunch by tourists and locals alike—completely ablaze, with flames reaching above the treetops.

“We stood and watched it burn down,” Freese remembers. Because they live in a small mountain town, the fire department took almost half an hour to reach Fergie’s, at which point the small “shack,” as Freese calls it, that held the kitchen and bar was a lost cause. The trailer they’d outfitted into a dining room was able to be saved, but with a pile of rubble where their kitchen used to be, the Freeses thought for sure their little eatery was gone for good.

Fergie's Cafe

“We were [originally] told it was a no-build zone,” Freese says of the land that Sunwolf sits on. “We watched with absolute certainty that that was the end of our restaurant. We just knew; we weren’t even going to ask to rebuild it. And then they called us and asked us to rebuild it.” Because a structure had already existed on that land, the district told them, they were allowed to replace what was there.

Still, it wasn’t an instant yes for the Freese couple. With three young kids, they had to really reflect on whether or not a completely new build would be worth their time, money, and energy. It was on a previously-planned trip to Costa Rica—one they couldn’t cancel last-minute—that they decided they’d go for it. Fergie’s would rise from the ashes.

“It was a mission,” Freese says now, sitting at a table in Fergie’s 2.0. “We’re happy to be here, but it’s been a really, really long 20 months.”

Once they decided to go for it, though, they were all in. They spared no expense and no detail, making sure the new space spoke to their hearts from a design perspective, was as environmentally-friendly as possible, and fixed some problems from the previous setup.

“The real silver lining is that we were dealing with problems with staff, problems with equipment—so to us, Fergie’s had grown into this place that was fraught with challenges,” Freese admits. “It was a tiny shack that was trying to do way more than it could do, so then when [the fire] happened, the massive silver lining was reading all these messages of support. ‘Oh, it’s my favourite place in the world, I can’t believe it’s gone.’ And we weren’t hearing that from anyone anymore.”

So they took the opportunity to address some of those issues, starting with a completely purpose-built kitchen that could comfortably punch out many more meals than the old space could handle. It also gave them the opportunity to increase their seating, both indoors and outdoors, and to make the whole thing wheelchair-accessible with a ramp that goes from the parking lot to the second-storey dining area.

Fergie's Cafe

Adding heartbreak to heartbreak, though, the Freese couple found out in January 2020—shortly after reopening—that a leak in a beverage line needed immediate preventative maintenance. And just like that, Fergie’s was closed again. Fast-forward to March, and the restaurant was able to open for all of one day before shutting its doors due to the threat of the novel coronavirus.

But now, at long last, Fergie’s is open. For real this time (following safety guidelines from the provincial health authority).

And despite all of these recent changes and challenges, some things about Fergie’s have remained the same since its inception: cult-favourite brunch dishes like The Dubliner eggs Benny (double-smoked bacon, aged cheddar, pickled red onion, apple) and the Pulled Pork Hash (smoked pork, yam, kale, sunny-side-up egg, potato hash, seasonal veggies) are still on the menu. It’s that same great Fergie’s taste, but now the space has more soul; some of that rustic charm from the old “shack” may be gone, but what has been formed in its wake is something even more magical, because it’s truly theirs. “This,” Freese says without a doubt, “is our legacy.”