By Jesse Wood
As the fatal Valle Landing fire was still burning, Don Cox, owner of Bald Guy Brew, was walking in the direction of Watauga River Road, away from the charred rubble, away from where he’s been roasting coffee beans for about three years.
Cox parked down the road because emergency officials weren’t letting anyone near the fire, and as he walked away from his labor of love, Cox said it felt like a movie, one where a chapter of someone’s life is closing amidst the smoke and ash and rising sun.
“I said, ‘I can walk with my head down or with my eyes up,’” Cox said on Thursday. “So I just forced myself to put my eyes up, and as I was walking away, it was like that chapter of Bald Guy Brew was gone.”
The Aug. 12 fire was devastating. It claimed the life of one individual, Macie Dove Pietrowickz, and severely injured her husband, Mark, who suffered burns across 40 percent of his body, according to fundraisers for the victims.
A family of four also lived in the apartments at Valle Landing. The Nagy family all survived by jumping from the second story of the building, but the matriarch, Nicky, suffered four broken vertebrae and is outfitted with a full-body brace and leg brace. The patriarch, Andreas was also injured, although to a lesser degree, during his leap to safety. Their two daughters are fine.
So far, emergency officials haven’t released many details since the fire erupted, and as the rubble smoldered this week, Watauga County Fire Marshal Steve Sudderth said that his office and the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office were still investigating the fire.
For Cox, he lost an estimated $100,000 in roasting equipment and the Bald Guy Brew van seen every weekend at the Watauga County Farmers’ Market and other functions where his coffee is sold. He pretty much lost everything associated with his business except for his cargo bike and three pounds of coffee.
“Our hearts really just go out to the people who lost loved ones [and the injured]. Nothing trumps death,” Cox said. “I lost income, but I came home to a wife, two boys and a dog, and that’s the perspective I plan to stay in.”
Cox said he went out of business on Friday, Aug. 12, at 5:30 p.m. – about 12 hours after the call of the fire came through the Watauga County Communications emergency system.
The ongoing fire investigation and insurance-claims proceedings are a complicated and delayed process. Plus, the roasting equipment Cox used can’t be bought off the shelf. So Cox must wait.
“The roasters we buy were hand built,” Cox said. “They have to be ordered and machined and assembled, and that’s at least three months away.”
So, now Cox has the opportunity to ponder on what he wants to do – or as he said, “re-envision the business with a little bit of hindsight to find out what I like to do and what I don’t like to do.”
While he said he is still pondering his next step, he said he knows he still loves roasting coffee and “walking dirt” with coffee growers from around the world. He hopes to purchase roasting equipment and more in three to four months to embark on the next chapter of Bald Guy Brew.
He expressed gratitude for the support from the community – the prayers, meals and money – and a bit of awkwardness for the fundraisers (here and here) benefiting his business, considering others fared considerably worse.
As he wrote in a Facebook post to Bald Guy Brew followers recently, “Material things can be replaced, but nothing can replace the life that was lost. I want to encourage you to give generously to the GoFundMe links [here and here].”
See other fundraising opportunities here.
Sunday Fundraiser at Lost Province Brewing Co.
Utilizing some of the last of the three pounds of coffee beans that Cox has left, Lost Province Brewing Co. is creating a “Bald Guy Breakfast Stout” and hosting a fundraiser to benefit Bald Guy Brew on Sunday, Aug. 21.
Andy Mason, co-owner and head brewer at Lost Province Brewing Co., said that he’s using a coffee-extract from Bald Guy Brew to create 10 barrels of the breakfast stout. After making, fermenting and conditioning the brew, the stout should be available in draft, growlers and keg form in two to two-and-a-half weeks.
On Sunday, Aug. 21, 10 percent of sales throughout the entire day will go to Cox to get his business back up and running, and once the breakfast stout is on tap, Lost Province Brewing Co. will donate a $1 of all in-house pints of the stout sold to Cox.
The band, Out of the Blue, is performing between 6 to 8 p.m.
Mason said that he and his wife, Lynne, have been buying Bald Guy Brew coffee and beans since before they opened the brewery and restaurant.
“Don’s been a great supporter of our business, and so we want to turn around and be a great supporter of his. That’s what it really comes down to,” Mason said.
Mason said that his company will also be holding fundraisers for the other victims of the fire.