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Heidi Shaffer, Published August 17 2010

Vergas restaurant cleaning up after fire

The loss of a family-operated Vergas, Minn., restaurant that burned over the weekend is still sinking in for many of the eatery’s patrons and lakes vacationers.

Josh Hanson, owner of Spanky’s Stone Hearth Restaurant, said he and his family received an “overwhelming” outpouring of community support since fire tore through the building’s kitchen early Saturday.

Dan Lysne, a Fargo physician with a home on Pelican Lake, Minn., eats at Spanky’s every couple of weeks and describes the fire as a “huge loss” for the community.

“Josh has become kind of a living legend in the lake area,” said Lysne, who became a friend of Hanson’s after meeting him at the restaurant.

Lysne said word of the fire spread quickly on Saturday.

Over the weekend, the family fielded hundreds of calls and e-mails from patrons, friends and neighbors offering support, said Nathan Soland, Hanson’s younger brother who commutes on the weekends from Minneapolis to work in the restaurant.

At least seven of Hanson’s family members work at the restaurant, including three of his brothers, his mom, grandma and two cousins.

Hanson and his family are hoping the community support carries over to finding work for the restaurant’s 52 employees who are temporarily without jobs, Soland said.

“I know that Josh and the rest of our family will put a lot of effort into making sure these people are taken care of,” Soland said, adding the family has been in contact with several local businesses that are hiring in hopes of finding the employees work.

A handful of patrons were still dining at Spanky’s when fire broke out about 1:15 a.m. on Saturday. Hanson and staff preparing for a next-day catering order noticed smoke coming from near the kitchen and called 911.

The kitchen sustained heavy fire damage, and the rest of the building has severe smoke and water damage, said Hanson, who bought the restaurant in 2005 and has worked at the establishment for 18 years.

Hanson said he is weighing his options with what to do with his business’s future. It’s possible he will rebuild at the same site or maybe somewhere nearby.

“I’m going to resurface somewhere, but just not sure (where) yet,” Hanson said.

The fire is still under investigation by the Minnesota State Fire Marshal, said Kristine Chapin, a state spokeswoman.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511