Early last Wednesday morning, June 19, a two-alarm fire started at a Vienna landmark causing $125,000 in damage.
Police woke up Marty Volk, owner of the Vienna Inn, at around 4:30 Wednesday morning. An officer from the Vienna Police Department had noticed a fire at the restaurant one hour earlier, at around 3:30 a.m. When Volk arrived at his restaurant, firefighters were already battling the blaze.
Later firefighters told Volk the fire was probably accidental. Volk himself speculated that the fire was probably electrical. But fire investigator Dave McKernan, captain of the Fairfax Fire and Rescue Fire Investigators Unit, said he couldn’t rule out any possible cause of the fire.
The fire damage was concentrated in two rooms — the restaurant office and a dry storage room. Since there was no damage to the dining room or kitchen, Volk hoped to re-open the restaurant soon.
"We’re going to rebuild," Volk said. "I’m not going to go work at McDonald's."
A friend, who works as a building contractor, said Volk would be lucky to re-open for the Fourth of July weekend. Volk would like to open even sooner. He said the summer is the restaurant’s busiest season. But McKernan was "not so sure it will be possible to rebuild."
"There is some structural damage," McKernan said. "It’s an old building. I’m not a building contractor, though."
But Vienna resident Donnie Cooke, a friend of Volk and long-time customer of the Vienna Inn, said that even if the entire restaurant burned to the ground, the community would "have to pitch in and rebuild." On Wednesday morning, at around 8:30, Cooke gathered with friends Ron Slingerman and Jim Cronin to watch as firemen removed pieces of scorched debris from the restaurant. Slingerman, also a Vienna resident, said he had been a customer of the Vienna Inn since 1960, when his father first took him to the restaurant.
"To lose the Vienna Inn would be like losing a second home," Slingerman said. "I hate to admit that."
From talking to contractors on the scene Slingerman believed that the building would need renovations, but would not have to be entirely rebuilt.
"The good news is that it will keep the same homey, run-down look," Slingerman said.
Volk bought the Vienna Inn two years ago from the Abraham family, who had run the restaurant for 40 years. The unpretentious charm of the restaurant, known for its chili-dogs, attracts a wide range of clientele from throughout the area. Vienna resident Kay Alfonsi, who works at the nearby Urgent Care Clinic, said she and her co-workers often eat lunch at the Vienna Inn.
"It’s part of Vienna," she said.
WHEN THE FIREFIGHTERS first heard about the fire, they were "considering calling in mental health workers because some of our guys were so distressed," joked McKernan. He said firefighters often eat at the restaurant.
Seven engines were dispatched for the fire. More than 50 firefighters brought the fire under control in around 25 minutes. Firefighters came from stations in Vienna, Tysons Corner, Merrifield, Oakton and the City of Fairfax.
No injuries were caused by the fire. Volk said he visited the restaurant around 10:30 p.m. the night before the fire. It was raining that night, and Volk wanted to check on flooding in the basement. The restaurant closed at midnight, with the wait staff leaving around 12:15 a.m., Volk said.
There have been two fires at the Vienna Inn in the past, believed to have been set by an arsonist, Volk said.
As Volk stood outside the restaurant on the morning of the fire, he met with several customers and friends.
"There have been a lot of people coming through here and expressing their concern," Volk said. "I’ve seen a lot of old friends who have stopped by."
One of those friends was Vienna’s Chris Corridon, an employee of Jim Corridon Electrical.
"Without the Vienna Inn, where am I going to have a beer and a chili-dog?" Corridon asked.