FORD CITY — Brian and Vicky Stanfield had one prevailing thought after a fire damaged their restaurant, Stanfield's Steak House, earlier this month — the future welfare of their employees.
But following a request for help on social media, other businesses have stepped up to help out by hiring some of those workers.
Located in the heart of Ford City, the restaurant for many longtime patrons is a daily lunch and dinner destination. The business just celebrated its 20th anniversary.
The fire, just after midnight Aug. 4, is believed to have ignited about 30 minutes after the restaurant closed. It started in the kitchen area in the ceiling near the hood fans.
Flames were confined to the kitchen, thanks to quick response of firefighters and other emergency personnel, but intense heat and smoke did damage throughout the building.
As a result, the restaurant will be closed for four to six months while repairs are being made.
"As bad as it is, we're so extremely blessed that no one was still in there and that more of it didn't burn," said Vicky, who still speaks of the event with tearful emotion. "We had several days there of just sheer panic for our employees, as some of them have worked for us for the whole 20 years."
Among the material losses were many antique signs that decorate the walls throughout the building that couldn't be salvaged due to heat and smoke damage.
What was salvageable was the some of the more sentimental items, like military pictures and other antiques that have served as conversation pieces for two decades.
Still, the greatest concern for the Stanfields was the loss of their employees jobs.
"These kids are our family," Vicky said, explaining that she and her husband consider all their work crew their "kids."
"I just couldn't get past the fact that we had all these people now unemployed," she said.
Almost immediately, the Stanfields' daughter took to social media, calling on help from any restaurants or area businesses in need of some excellent employees.
The responses were immediate. In all, about 40 local businesses offered employment opportunities for the misplaced Stanfield "family."
Several restaurants around the Shoals area, and even an insurance agency, has offered to help.
"Some not only said they'd help, but that they'd hire them on the spot," Vicky said. "It made my heart so happy because we love these people so very much. They are indeed family to us."
Among the businesses responding immediately was Sweet Peppers in Muscle Shoals.
Manager Chasity Fretwell said she saw the post on Facebook and immediately commented, saying she would hire some of the employees.
"Within five minutes of the post I responded, and she called me. A couple people came in the next day," Fretwell said. "I just hired them on the spot. I hired three more later. We hired a cook and four to work in the front."
Monday was the first day at Sweet Peppers for Hope Izaguirre and Abby Holt, who've worked at Stanfield's for eight and four years, respectively.
Both are training as cashiers with plans to move into serving.
"I felt really comfortable and everyone was very welcoming," said Izaguirre, adding that she feels fortunate to have landed a job so quickly.
"I was awake and scrolling on Facebook when I saw the post that Stanfield's was on fire. I drove straight there and stayed through the night. I just couldn't believe it."
She said she expects to enjoy her new job, but the Stanfield's crew is family and she wants to get back there.
"I think the employers who are taking us all in sort of know this is temporary housing, but I may just try to keep this job as well. I really think I'm going to like it here."
Holt said the Sweet Peppers job is a different environment from Stanfield's, but she likes it. She hopes to go back but, like Izaguirre, "may well end up doing both jobs."
"Brian and Vicky are phenomenal and I never once, not in four years, dreaded going to work," Holt said.
It's that type of loyalty customers feel as well.
Vicky Stanfield said she doesn't take that for granted and will not forget those who've supported her business through the years.
"After insurance gets settled and they give us the OK, we want to feed the community at one huge table outside (on the premises) to thank them for helping us through this," she said.
"I want to do that weekly. I want to keep the whole extended family together."