Norman Othello's makes progress on construction, hopes to reopen in late July
A little more than a year ago, Jennifer Dennis and her entire staff gathered outside of Othello's at 7 in the morning and watched as the building burned.
Dennis, who is the owner and manager of the Norman Othello's, said it's been a long process of rebuilding since that day on April 29, 2017, with many bumps in the road adding time to the restaurant's reopening, which now is set tentatively for the end of July.
“I think it's hilarious that we thought we were going to be open last year in October,” Dennis said. “We thought we would be open in six months, and here we are 14 months later. Nope. Not open.”
Dennis said she still recalls vividly the day lightning struck the building.
“I got the call from the alarm company at about 5:45 in the morning saying the alarm was going off,” Dennis said. “It was storming outside so, obviously, I didn't think much of it because we lose power a lot here on Campus Corner during storms, and I was actually going to go back to bed.”
Before she went back to bed, however, Dennis said she checked Facebook and found that someone had tagged themselves in a picture at the restaurant with a caption that read "Othello's on fire."
“From that moment, obviously, I kind of went crazy and jumped up, called 911,” Dennis said.
Dennis then called her staff, and they all gathered to pick up the pieces from the fire. Because of the storm, water leaked into the building and caused enough damage that anything on the ground became warped, Dennis said.
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The items that remained salvageable were the antiques and artwork on the walls where not as much damage had been done.
'It's almost over'
Fourteen months later, the construction has come a long way but is still in progress.
“I'm happy that it's almost over," Dennis said. "I would not wish this on my worst enemy, and I hope we never have to go through this again.”
Despite the strenuous process, the fire has ended up giving Dennis a chance to completely remodel the building into her ideal version of Othello's.
“Being able to pick out the flooring and the paint — it's fun to be able to build your own restaurant and build one that makes sense,” Dennis said. “The flow of our old restaurant wasn't the best for servers and now being able to build something that is efficient and being able to serve our customers better is nice.”
Now, the walls of the dining area have transformed from a red paint and wooden trim to an Italian-styled mural that covers the entire room, painted by artist and University of Central Oklahoma professor, Bob Palmer.
The layout of the building has been modified to open up the space, with a new private dining room for groups to reserve, as well as modifications to the patio area, including an awning and a fire pit.
“It's going to be a really nice atmosphere,” Dennis said.
Though there will be many new changes to the appearance of the restaurant, the majority of the staff members will remain the same as before, Dennis said.
“We are a very close family, and I think the fire even brought us closer,” Dennis said. “At one point we had a 90 percent return rate on people who wanted to come back — everyone wants to come back.”
Many of the other restaurants in the community extended their hands to Othello's employees after the fire and offered them short-term positions, knowing they would later return to Othello's, Dennis said.
However, because of the lengthy construction process, some former staff members have had to move on.
The community has been following the process closely, Dennis said, and she is excited to be able to see the restaurant's regulars once again.
“I get emails probably about five times a day from different customers,” Dennis said. “I'll see them on the street or at Walmart, and it will be so great — we'll just hug because we haven't seen each other in a while.”
Once Othello's reopens, Dennis said its hours will be from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Saturday.
The restaurant also will resume its normal open mic nights on Tuesdays, steak and potato nights on Thursdays, jazz nights on Sundays and local music nights on Fridays and Saturdays.
“We're excited to get back. Our staff is ready, our customers are ready, I'm ready and now we just need the building to be ready,” Dennis said.