Shenanigans Makes a ‘Hard Pivot’ to Remain Open

As temperatures plummeted during Dec. 23 and Dec. 24 to negative numbers, water pipes froze and then burst across the Plateau. Many homes, schools, offices and businesses all got an unwelcome surprise.

With inclement weather forecasted for Christmas Eve, the staff at Shenanigans closed early, at 4 p.m., to go enjoy the holiday. When the staff came back to the beloved Sewanee restaurant to open for a busy Dec. 26 service, they were greeted with water pouring from the ceiling and approximately 3 inches of water downstairs on the floor from the front door to the side door. General manager Haleigh McKnight called owner Bill Elder with the news.

“Our first priority was to shut off the water at the main,” said Elder. “The next was to ascertain how dire the situation was for the restaurant and the building.” At least two upstairs water pipes had burst.

Elder reached out to his insurance company to let them know of the situation. His next step was to find a restoration company. David Boyd Williams, owner of Lumiere Sewanee, recommended Allied Contractors in Manchester. “I called them, and they moved mountains to get us into their already overloaded list from the freeze. They arrived at Shenanigans that day, ten minutes after I arrived from Nashville.” said Elder. “Sue Taylor took charge of the situation. I can highly recommend them.”

Saving the old wood floors downstairs, getting the water out and drying everything properly was the main concern.

“As temperatures began to rise, another upstairs pipe opened up and started gushing more water. The ceiling in the main dining room downstairs was saturated. All our electronic equipment from our point of sale systems, house audio system, deli cases, to coolers were shot,” said Elder.

To see how bad the damage was to the ceiling, part of it was removed. “More water gushed out. We had to take the whole ceiling out, remove the standing water, and dry everything out again,” said Elder. The ceiling is currently down to the rafters. A structural engineer was called in to assess the damage.

The Shenanigans’ staff helped with the cleanup and began moving tables and chairs to the upstairs. Everything that was not immediately needed such as catering equipment, was moved to a storage space in Midway to help get everything as clean and dry as possible. Treasured heirlooms were also carefully stored, and some were placed on the walls upstairs.

“One of the first things I went in and saved were the index card boxes with decades of recipes from previous owners. They are water stained, but I am scanning them into an app to preserve them,” Elder said.

Normally, the restaurant is an order at the counter and pickup at the counter establishment. Elder said they did a “hard pivot” and began to offer table service with a limited menu and limited hours upstairs. “Right now, we are offering burgers, grilled cheese, all the veggie burgers and fried items,” said Elder, plus a full bar and soft drinks. They plan to add pizza back to the menu next week.

“We do not know how long it is going to take to get back to normal operations,” said Elder. Elder said the restoration company is waiting on the report from the structural engineer. Then, it might take several weeks for Allied Contractors to complete the ceiling renovation. “When the ceiling reconstruction is completed, we might open the downstairs in some capacity sooner. All the front-of-house equipment must be replaced, plus we are dealing with the various insurance companies as well, which takes time” said Elder.

There are some positives from all these negatives Elder said. “One, is that we want Sewanee and all our customers to fall in love with the upstairs. It’s really an awesome space, and now we get to use it as our main dining space, in addition to its already known uses as music venue, bar and event space. We plan to host all the NFL playoff and other future games up there with the big 10-foot screen and bar food and drink specials. Second, the food truck will be back up and running to offer menu items we can’t currently do out of the kitchen. Third, we were able to spruce up the back room to make it a more intimate hangout. We also have had a lot of support from the community.”

Most importantly, “Our dedicated employees are getting paid,” said Elder. “They are employed and busy working together and coming up with ideas for us to navigate this crazy challenge. That’s been a beautiful part of this experience to witness — the dedication of our staff and how much they truly care about Shenanigans. That’s a rare thing and I’m so grateful to them.”

Elder said Shenanigans is open and will offer food and drinks upstairs and from the food truck, as they can, during the downstairs renovation. “There will be daily changes,” he said, and encouraged everyone to follow them on Facebook and Instagram for the day-to-day operating hours. Plus, a sign will be on the doors to let people know of hours of operation. “We also hope to start offering live music upstairs starting Feb. 23.”

Many have offered to set up GoFundMe fundraising pages to help this Sewanee institution. Elder said “Although I’m really honored by this outpouring of support and thankful for everyone’s spirit in that, we don’t want to go that route at this point. There’s so many GoFundMe’s out there and there are several other ways people can help.”

“What people could do right now is to support us when we are open and be understanding of our limited menu and hours. They can buy Shenanigans’ merchandise from our new online store <;. They can purchase gift certificates over the phone. I think a major way to help right now is for people and groups to book their upcoming events with us now. Greek formals, upcoming weddings, birthdays, grad parties, whatever—if we can get our events calendar filled up now through June, that would give us a ton of breathing room. People can inquire on our website <; about booking graduation and other events or parties. Sports teams coming through and other large groups wanting to pre-order can get in touch with us there too. All that kind of stuff would just be huge. The upstairs saved us during COVID, and it’s going have to save us here again” Elder said.

“As the steward of the oldest building and the oldest restaurant in Sewanee, I am committed to seeing Shenanigans reopen to its fullest potential. She is not going down on my watch,” Elder said. — reported by K.G. Beavers

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