Saltwell Farm Kitchen rising from the ashes with goals to rebuild and reopen after fire

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It was extremely fortunate timing when Mia Morrow, the sous chef at Saltwell Farm Kitchen, started locking up the restaurant right before the dryer burst into flames.

“We wrapped [service] pretty early, but I’d gotten pulled over the night before because my license plate light was out. I didn’t want to drive home again and get a ticket, so I was changing the bulb and getting delayed by the farm kittens crawling all over my car,” Morrow says. “When I finally walked back in to shut off the lights and lock up, I smelled something was off. I was like, ‘I can’t leave without figuring this out.’”

As soon as she realized a thick smoke was coming from the laundry room, Morrow called 911. It was 1:09 a.m. Sunday. If she had waited any longer, the restaurant would no longer be standing.

“Mia saved our farm,” says Shantel Grace, maître d’ and co-owner of Saltwell. “The fire chief told me that we were within minutes, if not seconds, of losing the entire house.”

The farm-restaurant is still standing, but with extensive damage to the laundry room, bathroom, kitchen and main living area, the road to reopening will be a long one.

Grace and Rozz Petrozz, co-owner and head chef, are no strangers to rehabilitating an old, damaged building. It’s part of Saltwell’s very origin story.

They opened the farm-restaurant in 2021 after pouring love and elbow grease into the historic McKinzie homestead in Overbrook. That success is what’s keeping them focused on the opportunities — not just the challenges — that lie ahead.

“We’re thinking about how to rebuild Saltwell in a way that can better accommodate what we do and support our staff,” Grace says.

The process of tearing down walls is bringing up new ideas for the Saltwell leadership team. They’re considering expanding the kitchen from 75 to 100 square feet, building out a service station for staff, and turning the basement into a wine and root cellar for tasting nights.

“I guess the world thought we needed a bit of a fresh start, to say the least, and to create a better flow for what we now know works with doing service, both outside and inside,” Petrozz says. “We’ve had two years of navigating it, and to be forced down to the studs, we see the light at the end of the tunnel as an opportunity to structurally create what we want, while still keeping a homestead. That’s optimistic for us.”

This vision for the future is a powerful motivator, especially with the overwhelming support Grace and Petrozz have received this week from their neighbors in Overbrook, friends in Lawrence, patrons in Kansas City, and beyond.

“Everyone who has reached out has been an integral part of us surviving this,” Grace says. “And it’s an emotional, beautiful process for us. We’re all about the golden rule, hospitality, and giving — whether it’s our food, our love, our time, or our service. So receiving can be the most mysterious feeling. I will never stop thanking those people who are doing so much for us.”

Their partner and friend, Kate Frick, set up a GoFundMe three days ago to support the restaurant and staff during this time. It had already raised more than half its goal of $25,000 by Thursday evening.

These proceeds are critical to Saltwell’s future, because unlike other restaurants, Saltwell is considered a farm first. They don’t qualify for interruption coverage, which in cases of emergencies like a fire can protect a conventional restaurant’s staff and provide coverage for loss of revenue.

Another struggle comes from Saltwell’s cash flow, which is built on a system of pre-reservations. Now, being closed and without access to interruption coverage, they’re grappling with tens of thousands of dollars in refunds.

“So many patrons have said, ‘You know what, hold my reservation, I believe you’ll be open again. Just keep us in the books,’ and I can’t even begin to express how amazing that is,” Grace says.

Jordan Winter/Lawrence Times Smoke penetrated the walls of the farmhouse so deeply that damage is even visible upstairs.

Grace and Petrozz are hoping to reopen Saltwell by the holidays. In the meantime, they’re planning to do pop-ups around the area and to reopen their weekly Farm Bar event as soon as they have a kitchen again. 

This weekend, they’re also hosting a fundraiser on the farm in conjunction with the Kaw Valley Farm Tour.

From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, Saltwell, at 214 North 800 Road, will be open for beers, hot dogs and music on a donation-only basis. Patrons can support their gift shop by purchasing mums, pumpkins, locally made candles and soaps, gift cards and more.

As Grace and Petrozz start their journey to rebuilding Saltwell into something even better than before, they’re counting their blessings. No one got hurt in the fire, and during the ordeal, they realized seven baby kittens were quietly born in the basement during service Saturday night.

It’s a reminder that new beginnings happen all the time.

Jordan Winter/Lawrence Times The fire was caught early enough to save the seven kittens the Saltwell Farm Kitchen owners discovered had been born in the basement during service that evening.
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Jordan Winter (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a 2019 KU grad with degrees in journalism and political science.

Check out her work at See more of her work for the Times here.

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