Seeing the Ann Arbor fire department at Good Time Charley’s was just as comedic as it was tragic for owner Adam Lowenstein. After having to close indoor seating, outdoor seating was the only option for customers to dine at Good Time Charley’s, an option that has also been temporarily paused.
There were 20 people dining on Good Time Charley’s patio the night of December 10. Around 8:45pm, Lowenstein was called after the restaurant managers noticed smoke in the building. By the time he arrived at the restaurant from his home, the fire department had evacuated the area and were working on putting the fire out.
“I was incredulous, I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Lowenstein said. “We’ve never had a fire in the 14 years that this building has been open, so obviously at the end of 2020 is when we get hit with this double tragedy,”
After opening Big Time Burrito in 2004, Lowenstein and his business partner Justin Herrick acquired Good Time Charley’s in 2007. Good Time Charley’s has been open since 1979 but together, Lowenstein and Herrick were able to reimagine the restaurant as their own.
“We were thinking of expanding and trying a burger concept,” Lowenstein said. “We were talking to a real estate agent in 2007 and he brought up the Good Time Charley’s location. It was way more than what we were originally thinking but the more we thought about it, the more we loved the history, the location, the full bar, and everything Charley’s had to offer.”
Before the fire, the Good Time Charley team were changing their operations to meet all COVID-19 restrictions. These changes included moving Big Time Burrito’s operations into Good Time Charley’s kitchen but also starting an alcohol delivery option and adding accommodations including a pick-up window and expanding the outdoor seating area.
“Right when the pandemic hit we moved Big Time Burrito in with Charley’s to consolidate our operations,” Lowenstein said. “We’ve been maximizing carry-out and to-go sales as much as possible. Obvious we’re way down on the year without dine-in, football season, and late nights. Most of our major revenue sources were gone, so to have a couple of ongoing dependable revenue streams like the outdoor seating, we had hit a little bit of a stride.”
All of the patio-based dining was covered with an awning heated by permanent overhead heaters. To accommodate customers better, stand-up heaters were also used. The fire itself was caused by having a stand-up heater too close to the building which then set a wooden awning on fire.
“Thankfully no one was hurt,” Lowenstein said. “The building damage wasn’t that bad all things considered, but we are not even allowed to use the overhead heaters until we get sign up from the city.”
Delivery and carry-out options are now the only services now being offered by Good Time Charley’s as the kitchen is still available for use. Even without major repairs needed, the owners need to prove to the city of Ann Arbor that their restaurant set-up and building is safe. Lowenstein believes that they won’t be open until mid-January at the earliest.
“The city wants to see that there’s no structural damage to the building, that it’s sufficient to fire code and because a lot of smoke came into the building they want to see if we need to replace the ceiling tiles,” Lowenstein said. “Any commercial building has to go through the city when they’re doing any work so that’s what they are holding to and there’s no way to speed it up.”
Since the fire, the owners have started a GoFundMe for the staff at Good Time Charley’s. The fund started on Dec. 12 and was aiming to raise $5,000. They have since raised $6533 with donations mostly coming from people in Ann Arbor.
“The outpour of support was absolutely incredible,” Lowenstein said. “It was really amazing to see how quickly that spread and how many people have contributed.”