UPDATED: Fire burns Tourterelle; historic Route 7 building is saved

Editor's note: This story was updated on Thursday, June 25, to add in the GoFundMe campaign and other more up-to-date details.

NEW HAVEN — A fire early this past Friday morning destroyed the kitchen and caused extensive smoke damage to Tourterelle, a prominent restaurant on Route 7 in New Haven. The building was empty and no one was hurt.

On the scene as firefighters checked for hotspots that morning, Tourterelle owners Bill and Christine Snell said they would put their restaurant and three-room hotel back together. Their assurance hadn’t waivered nearly a week after the blaze.

“We are going through with restoration and construction; it will be a long haul,” Christine Snell said on Wednesday morning. “We are hoping May 2021 but we are still at the beginning of what will be a long recovery.

“Rest assured, we will be back.”

The Snells got some help from their friends and from friends of the restaurant, who put together a fundraising effort to help with rebuilding. Launched on Monday, the GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $30,000 as of Wednesday afternoon. Results can be seen online at gf.me/u/yauvpr.

“Bill and Christine have been so amazingly generous to our community,” one of several people helping with the fundraiser said. “Offering fundraising events at the restaurant to support our schools, organizations and other nonprofits, always making sure to make a special event extraordinary, taking care of their staff and hiring so many of the young people in our community. And always, always with an unmatched kindness and generous spirit.”

Rebuilding will clearly be a big job.

New Haven firefighter Cody Cyr was driving past Tourterelle on the way to work at around 6:30 a.m. Friday when he saw flames, according to New Haven Fire Chief Alan Mayer. Cyr pulled over to see what assistance he could provide and called in the rest of the fire department.

When firefighters arrived they were greeted by flames coming out of the kitchen and smoke pouring out from eaves around the stately 224-year-old building that formerly housed Roland’s Place. Mayer immediately called out for more help from neighboring fire departments. Ultimately firefighters from seven departments answered the call.

“This is an old building,” Mayer noted. “This could have gone (up fast).”

The kitchen was destroyed and the entire building sustained smoke damage, Mayer noted. Fire got up in the walls, and firefighters punched a few holes in the roof to let out the smoke and fight the fire. It took them a couple of hours to knock down the fire and as of 9:30 a.m. there were still many firefighters and seven or eight trucks on the scene, and they were still wrapping up the job and looking for hot spots.

They were aided by the fact that a huge pond out back and another smaller pond provided easy access to water to battle the fire.

As of Wednesday the exact cause of the fire had not been determined, Christine Snell said.

The Snells, who don’t live onsite, were awoken at home by a neighbor of the restaurant who called to break the news.

PLANNING TO REOPEN

Less than three hours after he was alerted that his restaurant was on fire, and while firefighters were still mopping up operations Friday morning, Bill Snell strode over to a visitor at the scene and asked him if he was the insurance adjuster. Bill was already thinking about what he needed to do to get back in business.

“This is so ironic,” Christine said. “I had some guests eating in the barn here last night, and they told me they were so glad to be back at Tourterelle, and I said, ‘We’re not going anywhere.’”

Remarkably cool under the circumstances, Christine was sure that she and Bill would restart the restaurant.

“The community is behind us, they have been so supportive of us, coming out to the restaurant during this whole (coronavirus) thing. We have to (restart).”

The business and its owners face the challenge of recovering from a fire with the added burden of coming off three months of business hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic. In mid-March the dining room closed as Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency and instituted “stay home, stay safe” measures that included closing in-person dining and lodging.

Like many restaurant owners, the Snells had to furlough their staff. But they continued to offer takeout meals with only the two of them doing every job. Christine acknowledged that running her business this spring has not been easy.

“We worked double,” she said. “I’m tired.”

Tourterelle has built a devoted clientele by offering a fusion of classic French dishes made with local Vermont ingredients. It also has a decent-size events barn and has a wonderful locale for hosting weddings.

In the past few weeks as social-distancing rules have loosened a little bit, Tourterelle has been able to invite guests to eat in its well-ventilated barn and events space.

“Of course we’re just getting back in, we haven’t had anyone in the building since March 17,” Christine Snell said.

On Wednesday she was moved by the outpouring of support she and her family had received.

“Community, patrons, friends and family have been more than amazing; we really can’t ask for more,” Christine said. “The restaurants have extended and offered so much help. Despite the sadness of our loss, we feel so embraced and carried by our magical community.”

Like her husband, she was convinced that they would be able restart their business, and she felt an obligation to do so.

“The community supported us with takeout, and helped us getting through this challenge. Without the community we wouldn’t be here.”

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