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Trying to move forward

The Port of Elkton hoping to recover after late June fire

Late on the night of June 30, Michael and Kathrynn Dortland received a phone call that no business owner wants to get: their restaurant, The Port of Elkton, was on fire. The culprit: a malfunction in the kitchen’s smoker.

“The sheriff’s deputies were already in town because they were here responding to a local call,” Michael recalled of that night. “One of them smelled the smoke and didn’t think too much of it, thinking maybe someone had a fire going, A few minutes later, he looked up and saw the smoke coming out the top of the roof from the back side.”

While the fire lasted roughly 15 to 20 minutes, it was enough to cause sufficient damage.

“You can never underestimate the damage of fire; it happened so quickly, it was unbelievable,” Michael said. “It started with the smoker, kicked up to the roof, flashed over to the bar area and engulfed the whole bar, then kind of snuffed itself out. The fire department hardly had to put out any fire at all. It was pretty much gone by the time they got here. It’s just kind of crazy.”

The fire could not have come at a worse time for the Dortlands. Like so many restaurants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Port was closed in the beginning. The Dortlands eventually began offering take-out only and briefly opened for dine-in at half capacity in compliance with Gov. Walz’s executive orders.

The closure and subsequent reopening under the governor’s restrictions resulted in less revenue. To save money, they had to make a difficult decision.

“Because of COVID, we had decided not to do the building insurance until January,” Kathrynn said.

“That’s the kicker,” Michael said. “We were trying to save some money from COVID and I thought maybe we could cut a corner there. It wasn’t the best idea.”

With no insurance money to pay for the damage, the Dortlands now have to pay for repairs out of their own pockets. It’s a daunting task as the interior was engulfed, requiring the replacement of the carpet, the smoke-damaged interior walls, the bar, roof tiles and insulation.

Michael estimates the total damage at about $25,000.

But while the interior is heavily damaged, the exterior was only mildly damaged.

“We’ve got that going for us at least,” Michael said with a laugh.

But the Dortlands also have something else going for them: the community.

“They all stepped up,” Kathrynn said. “I want to thank everybody that has donated money or has donated things to help us. “

“They’re pretty sad,” Michael said. “They’re going to come down and help once we get it to where we can get in and get some actual work done inside instead of just throwing everything away. “

Kathrynn said a fundraiser is currently being set up through United Farmers State Bank. She plans to post more information at a later date on The Port of Elkton Facebook page.

A GoFundMe page has also been set up to support the Dortlands. It can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/local-business-lost-by-fire.

The Dortlands are hoping to eventually reopen The Port, though when that will be is still up in the air.

“With all of the shutdowns and COVID, there is no point killing ourselves over it because they are probably going to shut things down again anyway,” Michael said. “It’s uncertain what’s going on with COVID, so we figured we’d just try to gut it out this fall, get it all taken care of on the inside, and then next spring hopefully have enough money saved up to get it all ready to go.”

“It’s been too hot to do anything in there; it’s been depressing,” Kathrynn said.

“Everybody wants us to reopen,” she continued. “They ask, ‘When are you going to reopen?’ When we did the (Austin Living) magazine article, that boosted our business even more.”

“We have a good clientele going,” Michael added. “It’s really sad.”