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Beloved Poquoson Restaurant Burns
By Nancy E. Sheppard (Yorktown Crier | Poquoson Post)

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POQUOSON – Just after 2:00 a.m. on June 12, 2019, Poquoson residents were left in disbelief as they looked out their windows and saw Surf Rider, a seafood restaurant located at 103 Rens Road, engulfed in flames. Poquoson resident Jeff Grizzard was the first to call 9-1-1 when he saw the fire break out. Witnesses in the homes and boats located adjacent to the restaurant’s property described being awoken by the sounds of sirens coming down the roadway towards the restaurant. One resident said, "I saw just some smoke coming from over the kitchen and then BOOM!” Another resident described the explosion out of the right side of the building as sounding like "Woosh!” The fire consumed the building, particularly where the kitchen and new outdoor patio were located.

Fire departments from Poquoson, Langley Air Force Base, York County, and the City of Hampton, were quick to respond and fought for hours to put out the flames. The restaurant owners and many of the employees gathered before dawn to watch the place that they described as their "second home” burn to the ground. The ownership of Whitehouse Cove Marina, which sits next to the restaurant, were also on the scene, and did what they could to save the boats that were docked directly next to the restaurant. With the fire tempering to smoke and ash by later in the morning, all that was left was the burnt husk of what used to be Surf Rider.

At approximately 9:30 a.m., one of the restaurant’s cooks arrived for work, unaware that the fire had taken place. He stared at the building with a stunned expression and asked those who stood on the periphery of the property what happened. The owner of Whitehouse Cove Marina leant him a cell phone to call the owner of Surf Rider, who promised that he would have a job at one of the group’s other restaurants. Even at 10:00 a.m., fire crews were still battling small spots in the wreckage of what was the beloved gathering place.

SurfR image2Surf Rider had become a beloved gathering spot for residents in and around Poquoson. With its unparalleled views, delicious food, homey atmosphere, and incredible staff, there was no better place to be. Kelli Forrest reminisced over going to the restaurant with family and friends on balmy summer evenings to listen to live music. Robin and Jim Miller of Smithfield talk about having just discovered this location and happily taking the jaunt from Isle of Wight County to Poquoson for all of the things that made this restaurant wonderful. Poquoson residents, Pam and David Freeman, described eating at the restaurant several times a week.

Manager Brandi Timmons described the bond they share: "Surf Rider Restaurant Group is not just a business, it’s a family.” The Freemans’ son had his first job there while in high school. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to being a cook.

Mrs. Freeman said that many members of his extended family of coworkers attended his high school graduation party two years prior. On the night of the fire, their son was with several other staff at a supervisor’s house to watch the annual "Pro Am Basketball Game.”

The silver lining to this tragedy is that no one was reported injured as a result of the fire. The diligence of the first responders kept the fire from spreading beyond the restaurant and a small portion of the marina. As of Monday (June 17, 2019), an official cause for the fire has not been released and it is still being investigated.

Brandi Timmons said, "The support we have received from our customers and the residents of the City of Poquoson has been so touching.” She said that the ownership was working to take care of their employees by making sure they transferred to another one of their restaurants or are financially compensated. "We will make sure that everyone is taken care of while we are in the rebuilding process.”

With a vow to rebuild, Ms. Timmons spoke on behalf of the entire company as she extended her thanks to the first responders and the community. "We are excited to rebuild and get back to serving the wonderful City of Poquoson.”


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