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Conway’s Stoby’s to Rebuild After Fire

3 min read

The owners of Stoby’s, a fixture on the Conway restaurant scene since 1980, plan — at least as of Tuesday morning — to raze the building, heavily damaged by fire on Saturday, and rebuild at the same site.

But David Stobaugh, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Patti, promised Tuesday to maintain the “Stoby’s feel” of any new structure.

“I don’t want to be a chain and I don’t want to be a Chili’s. I want to have a little neighborhood corner restaurant. I like funky,” said Stobaugh.

He noted that the house that had been Stoby’s home for 36 years, at 805 Donaghey Ave., had a long history in Conway, serving as Coy’s Restaurant until the 1970s and going back to at least the 1940s, when it was Sullivan’s Ice Cream Shop.

The building was insured for $200,000 and the equipment, which was a complete loss, for another $200,000, Stobaugh said, and it will take that $400,000 and “considerably more” to rebuild Stoby’s. He expects construction to take four to six months.

In the meantime, Stobaugh plans to open a temporary operation to serve customers and employ his workers while a new Stoby’s is built. He’s looking at either a food truck to be located outside the Stoby’s company office in downtown Conway or “a little house at the end of Prince Street” that previously was a cupcake shop.

He thinks his insurance will pay workers for 60 days, Stobaugh said. Stoby’s employs 50 part- and full-time workers, including himself.

His biggest risk in rebuilding, he said, is ending up “with something that doesn’t feel like Stoby’s.”

If he does raze and then build a new building, Stobaugh said, he likely will double Stoby’s seating to about 128 from the old building’s 64. The building itself is only 1,375 SF, and an auxiliary building on the site added another 392 SF.

“I used to say we could win an award for dollars per square foot,” Stobaugh said.

Stoby’s has a location in Russellville, which has a couple of auxiliary dining rooms, and Stobaugh said he’d consider adding private dining space to a rebuilt Conway Stoby’s.

The origin of the fire, which started at 6:30 a.m. Saturday, appeared to have been in a motor in the vent hood above the kitchen stove, Stobaugh said. Two employees were in the restaurant, in the kitchen, and one customer was in the dining room. All escaped safely.

PattiCakes Bakery, located in a house on the same lot as Stoby’s and which employs 18, was unaffected by the fire.

He’s been overwhelmed, Stobaugh said, by the public’s reaction to the Stoby’s fire. “I’m absolutely blown away by people’s affection and loyalty to Stoby’s,” he said. “It’s just been amazing.”

Comments on Facebook included sentiments like the following: “Will there be a chance to give back to Stobys? As in volunteering help to clean up, remove debris, etc.? If so, please post. I would volunteer in a heartbeat.” And: “I cried like a baby when I read this. My husband asked why I was so heartbroken if you weren’t closing for good. I guess it’s just the only hub of my time in Conway that has withstood the test of time. So many great memories over cheese dip with friends and family!”

“People have taken ownership of Stoby’s, and I’m real thankful for that,” Stobaugh said.

The restaurant, known particularly for its cheese dip, ranked No. 10 among Conway restaurants with sales of $1.1 million through May 2015, the latest figures available, and was No. 1 among independent, non-chain restaurants. (The Arkansas Legislature last year enacted Act 1102, which exempts local option taxes, also called hotel-motel-restaurant or HMR taxes, from the state’s Freedom of Information Act so that restaurant sales could no longer be calculated. It went into effect July 21.)

“When this thing was on fire, I said people are going to say I’m crazy. They’ll say, he finally had the opportunity to expand it and he built it back just like it was,” Stobaugh said.

But, he said, “There’s been a lot of little signs of grace in this whole thing that give me the courage to proceed.”

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