Dairy Queen owners plan to re-open restaurant by April

Brad Johnson moves a ladder into place while working Tuesday on the interior of the Dairy Queen building in Soldotna. The owners are rebuilding after a fire destroyed the Soldotna institution last summer.

Editor's note: This is part of a series looking back on some of the people and events making news in 2011.


Before a June fire totaled the restaurant, Soldotna's Dairy Queen was decorated with many trophies, model airplanes and other memorabilia.

Peter Ischi, co-owner, collected the decorations over the years. The trophies were an accumulation of his softball career as a sponsor, player and coach. They're irreplaceable once lost, he said.

Reconstructing the store -- which is scheduled to open its doors by the first week of April -- meant furnishing the interior to look like newer Dairy Queen locations.

"The store will probably have a couple airplanes," he said. "We won't have what we used to because of the new decor of the store. It probably wouldn't work. We'll have one or two for old times' sake."

On June 29 at 3 a.m., something ignited near the rear roof of the restaurant. By morning extensive damage was done. A collapsed roof as well as interior heat and smoke damage totaled the Dairy Queen, with neighboring Alaska Fudge & Gifts also receiving damage.

Central Emergency Services Fire Marshal Brad Nelson and two out-of-state insurance company investigators spent about 50 hours trying to pinpoint the cause of the fire. In the end, the case was filed undetermined, Nelson said.

"I was back there for days, and a week and a half later I was still searching for an answer with the investigators," he said.

The area of origin was the roof above the kitchen, but the spark or original burn wasn't determined, he said.

Video surveillance of the interior of the restaurant displayed smoke seeping out of a few ceiling tiles, Ischi said.

Chain link fence blocks the front and side of the business. Ladders, loose wood and a storage trailer litter the area. Inside, workers are finishing the walls and ceiling.

Ischi plans to take things slow. He will not have a reopening event -- at least right away.

"We'll probably have a grand reopening after we get up and running and get all the kinks worked out," he said. "I just want to make sure everything is functioning properly."

Since the fire, people have been wondering when and if the restaurant will reopen. Cyndi Day, owner of the Maverick Saloon just across the Sterling Highway, said she's asked on a daily basis.

People missed it, she said. The owners are involved in the community, and the dining area was a gathering spot for local sports teams and small groups of residents, she said.

Day bought Dairy Queen desserts a couple of times a month for herself and her family. She said her kids are involved in sports and when the Dairy Queen closed the after-game hangout disappeared. Alternatives were found, but old traditions will continue, she said.

"There's no place like it," she said.

Co-owners Peter and Val Ischi sponsored local sports, from Soldotna Little League Baseball to youth hockey.

Support of sports teams will resume, Ischi said.

"We carried our sponsorships through last year," he said. "And we'll be back in sponsor mode as soon as we get the doors open again."

Ischi said the reconstruction of the store includes extra safety measures. The ceiling and divider wall between businesses is double layered with Sheetrock, and smoke detectors within the store's air ducts were installed.

Excess smoke in the ducts sets off the alarm, alerting Ishci of a possible fire much earlier.

"If such a device were in place to begin with the fire would have never got out of hand," he said. "But I didn't even know such a thing existed until we started rebuilding."

Ischi said he is looking forward to putting the reconstruction of the store behind him. Fire insurance covered about two-thirds of the cost, he said.

"This has been stressful and nerve-racking for the past six months now, and we still have two to three months of work ahead of us."

Another bonus of the reopening of the store: acquaintances no longer asking when the store will open its doors.

"I can just say, 'We are open, and please come in and see us,'" he said.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.


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