Lessons from the ashes: How this duo rebuilt after a fire gutted their Brisbane pub

Nick Gregorski

The Port Office Hotel owner Nick Gregorski (left) with chef Graham Waddall. Source: Supplied.

The Port Office Hotel in Brisbane has reopened its doors after a “devastating” fire ignited in the kitchen and ravaged the building.

The pub’s owners, Nick and Meagan Gregorski, bought the establishment back in 2017,  but on January 23, 2019, a fire started in their kitchen.

Now the kitchen is open and patrons are being served once again, Nick Gregorski speaks to SmartCompany about insurance pitfalls, rebuilding a dream, and the importance of community.

Rebuilding from the ashes

The fire was tall enough to lick the ceiling, where it reached something too combustible to control, Gregorski explains.

“We didn’t see what was in the roof, but there was a lot of smoke and water damage,” he adds.

As a result, the pair were forced to close the pub for weeks.

At the time, most of the disappointment stemmed from the fact the pair had recently renovated the building. In fact, Gregorkski returns to this several times as we speak.

“We did a renovation when we first moved in — but we didn’t want to do another one,” he says, laughing a little.

“Bits of the restaurant we did up to how we wanted it to be. That had to all be replaced.

“We had to gut the whole restaurant,” he adds.

The wistfulness is coloured by Gregorski’s personal nostalgia, which he used as a loose template for the renovations.

“It was a bit devastating,” he admits, reflecting on the “classic feel” the pair had introduced.

“I grew up in country pubs, and all the bartenders speak to the customers.

“That’s what I wanted to bring,” he explains.

Not all was lost in the fire, however. The Gregorskis used the opportunity to give the entire restaurant and kitchen an update.

“Now we’re Pinterest-worthy,” he says.

More importantly, the kitchen is more heavily safeguarded thanks to a state-of-the-art canopy.

“I think we did everything properly.

“It was just an accident.

“There’s no way that this kitchen can catch fire again,” he adds.

Insurance pitfalls

Perhaps the biggest learning from the experience was how to deal with insurance, which Gregorski admits is an ongoing lesson.

“It’s been a very stressful time. We’re still fighting with insurance companies.

“We may have been a bit naive on a couple of things,” he admits.

The steepest learning curve, however, came from what he calls “grey areas”.

“It’s very complex. I’ve been given five different sums for one area of the insurance, which I find very bizarre.”

Luckily, Gregorski’s saving grace came in the form of an insurance advisory, which helped him gather the correct information and spoke with insurance companies on his behalf.

“I wish I had these people on board from day one to help guide me through the pitfalls.”

Hands-on effort

For all the disappointments and troubles of the last year, Gregorski credits the community for helping to keep hope alive.

“Did we consider walking away? Definitely.

“However, this is our life. What would we do besides this?

“We’d have to find another pub ⁠— one that might not be as good as this.

“It’d be a shame for us not to be here,” he says.

The community has had a history of helping the Port Office Hotel throughout the years. The most memorable in recent history being the Queensland floods of 2011, when people banded together to barricade the pub with sandbags.

“The community reacted amazingly. Anyone who could help did.”

He concedes, however, that in this scenario, the practicalities of community help was limited. Compared to floods, fires are less about prevention, and more about reaction.

“You don’t want to put a lot of people in danger,” he explains.

“With insurance, there’s not much you can do but leave it to the professionals.”

Even so, Gregorski doesn’t discount the importance of the everyday support that has seen the pub through the years. He and his wife consider themselves hands-on operators, making a point to greet 90% of diners.

“The regulars that come every day add to the sort of fabric of the pub,” he says.

“It’s a prime community. They work hard, they’ll come back to support us and get us back to where we were before.”

The cashflow is not what it was before the fire, he says, but it’s getting there.

“My smile’s back. We’re happy with our new restaurant and kitchen.

“This is just a bit of a blip on our journey,” he adds.

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