Editor's Note: This story is Part II of a two-part feature on the blaze that gutted Countryside Restaurant one year ago. That fire preceded the birth of Creamery on Main.
The fire that gutted the Countryside Restaurant in Upper Milford Township one year ago, wasn't Countryside proprietor Bill Kao's reason for opening Creamery on Main on the Emmaus Triangle. But, the fire surely sped up the Creamery's birth.
Besides having to think and act quickly after the fire, Kao also said he learned a few things.
"The community support was phenomenal," he said.
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Following the fire, patrons came from Upper Milford and beyond to Kao's new venture, Creamery on Main on The Triangle in Emmaus, to buy the treats they came to love.
That was the good aspect of the fire. But besides the uncertainty and scrambling to set up the new business, Kao said he faced accusations from others. Those people assumed that he was responsible for starting the blaze in an effort to profit from the loss.
Koa, however, reminds that he was a tenant, not the owner. And, he said, he is still paying for the lost money he could not recoup from his insurance carrier, about $35,000.
"You find out who your friends are," he said, summing up that part of the experience.
But, he moved on.
He was fortunate to already have a deal in the works when the Countryside fire hit to bring a second restaurant to the area.
In April 2011, Kao had signed a lease to transform the former business at 332 Main St. in Emmaus, Perk on Main, to the Creamery on Main. With the Upper Milford business charred and extremely uncertain, Kao picked up the pace on opening the Emmaus business and did so on June 1.
Offerings there were simple at first, with favorites his regulars would expect: a wide assortment of ice cream, coffee and sandwiches. But, the week before Christmas, Kao expanded the menu.
Besides the more than 45 flavors of ice cream, he was now offering dozens of options on burgers, fresh-cut fries and more. He also initiated a catering option.
Whereas Kao planned to have two somewhat different locations -- Emmaus would largely serve that borough and Allentown -- and Upper Milford would serve that township, Macungie and a bit more, Kao was left to have the Emmaus location do it all.
"It's going to take another full summer for people to understand we're not just an ice cream place," he said. But, he believed, that misperception can be overcome.
Kao emphasized the community spirit and atmosphere of Countryside. It was traditionally a gathering place under other owners and was becoming that for him.
Ironically, "some of the firefighters were there that night for dinner," he said.
Kao said he doesn't foresee moving back to the Countryside site even if it would be restored as a restaurant. Instead, he will keep working to build the same atmosphere and tradition in Emmaus.