Jeannie Rogge arrived at her South Bend restaurant shortly after 5 a.m. on Feb. 7. She unlocked the door, turned on the lights and the grill, and then headed to the back room to prep for breakfast.
She looked forward to seeing many of the regulars; some customers have been stopping in for coffee or breakfast six or seven days a week for years.
It seemed like just another morning at Jeannie's House, which many area diners remember as the longtime White House restaurant at 1444 Mishawaka Ave.
But minutes after she arrived, Rogge found herself dialing 911 an her cell phone as she ran outside to escape a fire that started in the kitchen area.
It quickly produced heavy smoke and flames that shot out of the exhaust system on the roof of the building, located on the southwest corner of Mishawaka Avenue and Twyckenham Drive.
Firefighters ran past her with axes in their hands.
"Oh no, you don't need those! The doors are open!" Rogge remembers calling out to them, not realizing right away how extensive the damages would be.
All she could think of was how much energy, time and money she and her husband, Paul, put into renovating the building last summer.
It would all have to be repeated -- and then some.
"But we never thought of giving it up," she admits.
"Business was good, so we knew we were doing something right," Rogge says proudly. "So it was more a matter of what we needed to do to get the restaurant back to what we made it."
The couple started the arduous project in March.
They purchased a new grill, the old one being the apparent cause of the fire. And they also raised and replaced the ceiling, rebuilt the bathrooms, repainted and purchased new furnishings from the chairs to the long counter that stretches across the skinny dining room. Much of the interior was damaged by smoke.
"It probably lasted two more months than we anticipated," Rogge says about the renovation.
"Someone left us a card on the door while we were closed, and another customer brought us lilies that I planted out front," she says. "People are still coming in every day saying they did not know we reopened. But our regulars are back."
John Roelke, of South Bend, admits he stops at Jeannie's House every day.
"I'm a brave man," Rolke says with a laugh, clearly joking in front of the owner. "I like the hospitality and the food. I love the potatoes. They've done a great job."
Ray Martens remembers seeing the fire department trucks in the parking lot and on the street as he pulled up for breakfast the morning of the fire.
He has been dining at the restaurant for years; his wife even worked for the former owner. "It's close to home," and I enjoy being here," Martens says.
Just about every morning you can find Larry Pethick ordering coffee on his way to work. If he feels like a bite, he orders eggs and potatoes.
"It's nice and clean here, the staff and customers are friendly and they know you by name," Pethick explains. "You go into a chain and they're all the same."
Jeannie's House is open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday.
Have you heard?
We are still taking nominations for an upcoming column that will feature the "top 10 stores area shoppers miss." Share your memories of shopping or working at a favorite retailer that is no longer in business. Entries are due Aug. 12. ... Dixie Highway Ribs is planning a remodel at 135 S. Dixie Highway, Roseland, according to a state construction report. We'll bring you more details soon about the restaurant. ... Sports Clips is planning a 1,400-square-foot location at 52931 Indiana 933, near Cleveland Road, South Bend, a construction report reveals.
Heidi Prescott's column runs in the South Bend Tribune on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. When she's not shopping, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-235-6070. You can also talk retail at Facebook.com/thebasket and at Twitter.com/marketbasket.