It’s been two weeks since the McKinney location of popular restaurant Rye suffered severe damage in a fire. Although the restaurant’s owners still await answers about what caused the fire and how long the rebuild will last, they have already begun efforts to bring Rye back to the city where it was born.
For now, all of the restaurant’s workers are commuting south to Rye’s Dallas location. Loyal customers’ contributions to a GoFundMe—and their generous tips—have allowed the company to keep all of its staff employed. Now it’s all a waiting game, as Rye waits for word from the fire department and from insurance companies.
“It’s a weird feeling because I want to do more than I’m allowed to do,” says Tanner Agar, one of Rye’s three owners. Clean-up efforts on the McKinney site have yet to get underway because the fire department is still investigating the cause of the fire. As Agar understands it, a spark somehow got into a storage hut in the back, where it lit up shelves of paper towels, receipt paper, and toilet paper. From there, the blaze spread to the kitchen.
“They said, how did a spark get in here?” he recalls. “I don’t know. There’s no obvious thing—it’s not a fryer that got left on, it’s not a stock pot. Unfortunately, it might be something I never get to know.”
Since Rye burned on a Monday, when the restaurant was closed, authorities know that employee activity was not to blame. (And, more importantly, nobody was around to be injured.)
Now Agar is settling into an awkward waiting period, where the only guarantee is uncertainty. “It’s the not knowing what to do, and how long it’s going to go, that makes it so hard,” he explains. “I don’t have a timeline. I don’t have answers, and I don’t have a budget for anything. Once I do have a budget, the timeline on building anything these days is so long. If an ice machine can take you six months [to order] these days, should I go out there and personally purchase a couple things I know take a long time?”
Although the McKinney Fire Department advised him not to expect to re-open Rye there until spring 2023 at the soonest, that estimate is contingent on other variables: insurance payments, supply chain challenges, and the construction process. Agar is also unsure if the McKinney location will remain in the same building or move elsewhere.
In the meantime, Rye’s team is trying to see the glass half full. With the whole staff gathered in one location on Greenville Avenue, they’re now considering using the opportunity to redesign the menu, work on new techniques, and let creativity blossom. When the McKinney location does reopen, Agar hopes the intervening time will have allowed everyone at Rye to become better at their jobs.
“All our best cooks work in one kitchen? Let’s redo the entire menu,” he says. “Let’s turn this into a period where Rye really pushes the boundaries of being the best it can be.”
Even more inspiring, he says, is the reaction from Rye’s regular customers. Regulars in McKinney, Agar says, asked the group to start a GoFundMe because they wanted a way to support the restaurant without driving to Dallas. But many patrons are making the trip.
“The last two weeks, the restaurant has been packed with McKinney people and with Dallas people,” Agar says. One guy said he made a reservation at 5 because he wanted to come in and spend big money, but he didn’t want to take a table from someone else. Just showing up and saying, ‘We care about this restaurant, we care about you, and we’re here,’ it means a ton. It’s easy to think, ‘This is a terrible thing that happened to me.’ But the response of my team and our guests makes it clear it’s a terrible thing that happened to us instead.”
That kind of community support will be especially helpful if the Greenville location of Rye will be essentially double-staffed for the foreseeable future. For Rye’s McKinney location, the road ahead is unknown and full of possible hurdles. There is no timetable. But the community’s response has given the restaurant’s crew hope.
“Obviously, Day One was very difficult,” Agar says. “But I’m definitely feeling much more positive now. With the response that my team has had and our guests have had, it has meant a lot to us. We’ve moved on from the ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do?’ to the ‘Okay, we’re starting to make a plan.’”