EDGEWATER — If it had been up to Mike Selinger, he wouldn’t even have bothered getting out of bed this past weekend.
The owner of the Old Stein Inn had just seen the business he’d run for 16 years — the business his parents built — go up in flames.
“I just can’t believe it,” Selinger was still saying Saturday as he worked to clear the inside of the restaurant, which caught on fire early Friday morning.
But there was work to be done and folks who wouldn’t let him stay idle long, he said. A day after the three-alarm fire tore through the historic building, at least 25 friends and family members showed up to shovel and haul the rubble out of the German restaurant on Central Avenue in Edgewater.
Old wood beams are charred like firewood and glass Tiffany-style lamps are melted. Blackened dining rooms, filled only a few days ago with tables of bustling conversation, sat empty and exposed to the open sky where the fire demolished the building’s roof.
Other areas were stark reminders of how the restaurant had recently looked — a plastic table cloth looked untouched and the old chairs appeared singed, but otherwise intact.
The fire was reported by a passer-by. At 6:08 a.m. Friday Selinger got a phone call: “Your restaurant is on fire,” a man on the other end of the line told him.
Selinger ran outside his home, behind the restaurant, where he saw dozens of emergency vehicles and personnel already assessing flames that seemed to be contained in a back dining room. But the fire quickly grew and destroyed a second-story office in the restaurant.
“The tin ceiling probably saved a lot of the restaurant from burning,” Selinger said.
The restaurant has been closed indefinitely. Damage is estimated to be at least $550,000, said Lt. Cliff Kooser, a county Fire Department spokesman.
No cause has been determined, and the fire is under investigation. The blaze started on the opposite side of the restaurant from the kitchen; electrical wiring or holiday lights haven’t been ruled out as possibilities. But there may never be a conclusive answer about what started the fire, Kooser said.
During much of the holiday weekend, workers and regular customers drove to the Old Stein Inn to see the damage for themselves. Lloyd Warble, a longtime friend of the Selingers, said he stopped by to see if there was anything he could do to help.
“It makes me sick. I’ve been coming here since (Mike Selinger’s) … parents owned it,” Warble said. “This is everything to them.”
Down the street, at a nearby convenience store, customers on Saturday asked about what happened. Picking up a few items at the shop, longtime Old Stein Inn bartender Barry McGraw said he unexpectedly spent Friday running errands instead of working.
“I’m going to go home and figure out what I’m going to do next to make some money,” McGraw said.
The restaurant was popular with locals, he said, but on the weekends it would draw visitors from Virginia and the Washington, D.C., area, he said.
“It’s about the only German place around,” McGraw said. “It always gets good write-ups.”
Mike and his wife, Beth, said the help they’ve received and the words of support have been overwhelming.
“It’s our livelihood, but it’s more than that,” Beth Selinger said.
It’s too soon to tell yet whether the building can be renovated or if it will have to be replaced. But there’s no question the business will reopen, Mike Selinger said.
“We’ve been here 28 years, and we want to be here another 28 years as well.”