Owner rethinks name change, other plans for fire-damaged Friends Restaurant

File image of the fire at the old Friends Restaurant site
File image of the fire at the old Friends Restaurant site

Madisonville, La. - Even before fire destroyed what was left of Madisonville's iconic Friends Restaurant, owner Ryan Richard was rethinking his rebuilding plans.

Friends has had a rough go of things in the past year, flooding catastrophically in Hurricane Isaac and burning to the ground hours before its scheduled demolition Monday morning.

The state fire marshal called the fire "suspicious" and authorities reported someone saw a group of people fleeing in a white SUV around the time of the fire.

Richard said the fire, which "slowed us down about three hours," had no effect on rebuilding.

However, weeks ago, he started second-guessing his own plans for the Lighthouse Restaurant, a 30,000-sq. foot giant, towering over the Tchefuncte River and featuring a fully-functional lighthouse.

"After a lot of soul searching, it was the right thing to do," Richard said, explaining he has decided to "just scrap plans for the lighthouse."

His original plans called for a reception hall, complete with overnight accommodations.

"I've had so many people come up to me and say, 'It's not going to be same without Friends,' how much they were going to miss Friends or the memories they had at Friends," Richard said.

Despite some pushback about the scale of the project, he insists he had the financing and the approval of town officials.

The new design, according to architect Steve Rome, looks much like the Friends people remember.

"We don't want it pretentious," Rome said. "We want to keep it in line with what Friends was before."

Rome points to modern enhancements, which bring in natural light, and to corrugated metal on the facade to "present some of a nautical feel to it."

The revisions still include a banquet facility upstairs, along with another major design change - 12 feet of elevation.

"It leaves you enough for surge protection," Rome said.

Richard will also drop the name change and the plans for a lighthouse, which might have been seen as rivaling the existing structure at the mouth of the Tchefuncte.

"There only needs to be one lighthouse in Madisonville," Richard said. "One's enough and we've got it."

The original home on the site was built on giant beams, dating back to circa-1800.  Richard, who wants to use those same beams, says they were saved by the quick response of firefighters.

He hopes to open the rebuilt restaurant no later than August 29, 2014, the two-year anniversary of Isaac.