SALEM TOWNSHIP, MI – Co-owner Peter Poulos didn’t have to ask, “are there any volunteer firefighters in the house?” because he knew there were – customers – when a fire broke out at the nearly century-old building in Salem Township, Michigan and they helped save it.
There were volunteer firefighters in the bar that night, and they went right to work, said Click On Detroit, with a video shot by a passer-by shows how fast wind-aided flames quickly took off in the place that was heavily varnished log construction.
Firefighters were able to contain the flames to a small back area, preserving the bar, kitchen, and dining room. “That was very important,” Poulos said. “It was a busy night with lots of people in the restaurant. They did a great job just getting everyone together and moving them outside.”
“We might be the owners, but our staff is fully invested in this and, quite honestly, so are our customers. We have the best clientele in the state, and we love them. We’ll get it back open again,” Poulos said.
The Poulos family’s restaurant, Karl’s Cabin Restaurant and Banquets, 6005 Gotfredson Road in the Salem Township area of Michigan was severely damaged by the devastating fire on February 15.
According to the Detroit Free Press (DFP), the fire started in the back of the restaurant, which was quickly engulfed in flames. The local Fire Department was immediately called in, but also required assistance from neighboring departments, since the fire had already spread and was approaching the storage area where propane tanks were kept, which could have caused even more damage.
According to Salem Fire Chief James Rachwal, the evacuation of all areas of the restaurant was immediate and no one was injured, however, firefighters faced a number of challenges, including high winds, a lack of hydrants in the surrounding area of the restaurant, since the corresponding ones in a neighboring residential complex have not yet been connected, and “the propane tanks which were equipped with a self-venting safety feature that prevents explosions, but caused jet flames that reached about 15-20 feet as the tanks vented,” DFP reported.
He told DFP that “every drop of water had to be brought in by trucks,” and “it could have been much worse. Our departments did an excellent job of working together and saving the building. Obviously it has heavy, extensive damage but the building is still standing.”
“The older part of the building, the classic part of the building – the old timber and stuff – the fire did not get into that area,” Rachwal told DFP. “We were able to stop it. However, with that big of a fire you have a lot of smoke and damage throughout the whole complex. The business won’t be reopening any time soon.”
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. “We do know the area where the fire started was a smokers’ area for the employees,” Rachwal told DFP, adding that “we have not confirmed that as the cause and origin, but we are looking into it and reviewing multiple videos.”
Karl Poulos and his wife Sophia, both Greek immigrants bought the restaurant in 1982, and according to the restaurant’s website, “with hard-working Karl creating delicious meals in the kitchen and charming Sophia greeting everyone at the front door, it soon became the recipe for success. And ever since, Karl’s has become known as ‘a perfect place for friends and family to meet.’”
The Poulos’ sons, Peter and Louis, took over the restaurant in 1997, continuing its success.
The colorful history of Karl’s dates back to 1945 when it was a tavern that eventually became a popular stop for traveling musicians on the country circuit including a young singer named Johnny Cash. The tavern developed a hard-nosed reputation until it was converted into a restaurant and then finally became a staple in the area under the Poulos family’s ownership, serving homestyle favorites since 1982.
One of the customers at the scene of the fire posted on Facebook: “We enjoyed a perfect dinner on the enclosed patio, but before they could bring us our bill – the building WAS ON FIRE!!! They had to evacuate the building, we couldn’t even pay for the meals… Our hearts and minds go to the amazing staff and owners of that beautiful, historical old building. Karl’s is a true old fashioned (Roadhouse), and I sure as hell hope they can get back to business soon,” DFP reported.