MONTEAGLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The beloved Jim Oliver’s Smoke House Lodge, containing more than 60 years of history, was destroyed after a fire broke out Tuesday night.
“We are just heartbroken and devastated,” Marla Sitten said.
Sitten is the Music and Media Manager for the Smoke House and has known the family for years. The historic restaurant and music venue served as a symbol of community in Monteagle.
In 1960, Jim Oliver started building his reputation for cooking and excitement, according to Smoke House History. Starting a drive-in, 12 years later in 1975, Oliver opened the Smoke House restaurant with 14 employees, 80 seats, a gift shop, and a full menu.
Years later when Jim passed away, his children took over the business. Now, the family is reeling from the loss of a family treasure.
“J.D. is one of the few owners I know that will just go sit with every customer. They feel like they’re part of it. People got married here, people celebrate their anniversaries here, they come here for special occasions, and they love it because it’s old and it’s nostalgic and everything in it is from the heart,” Sitten said.
“It’s just devastating to see,” said long-time customer Kristin Lee-Pahanish, as she looks out at the debris rubble and ashes that fill the parking lot.
The fire began in the kitchen of the restaurant. In a Facebook post, the owners wrote, “Thankfully the tenacious firefighters would not give up, and they were able to save the lodge and cabins, which without a doubt would have burned down without their determined efforts to stop it.”
“We don’t know exactly what happened but. We know it started on the back wall of the kitchen. We had several employees that grabbed every fire extinguisher and tried to put the blaze out but were unable to contain it,” Sitten explained.
It’s not just the building itself that was lost. Hundreds of memorabilia representing the people who left their mark were inside.
“More than a friend to us, family, my husband’s been playing for about eight years now, steady every other weekend here, and we love coming up here with our whole family and playing,” Lee-Pahanish said.
She remembers the weekend spent at the lodge with her husband and children. Lee-Pahanish says her husband was scheduled for another show this Friday when they found out about the fire. Living in Nashville, she immediately drove an hour to be with the friends, who she now considers family.
“Everyone loves the smokehouse family, this restaurant, this business is a family,” said Lee-Pahanish.
Owners say they are overwhelmed by the support from the community.
“We need prayer for the Olivers, we need prayers for all of our employees, and our lodge and restaurant. the restaurant is gone, the gift shop is gone, the music room is gone,” Sitten said, holding back tears.
A GoFundMe was created to help the owners rebuild. Sitten says it could be several days before crews can clear the debris because some parts are still smoking from the fire.