ANDOVER — Waitstaff at Palmer's Restaurant and Tavern huddled around a computer screen, familiarizing themselves with items on the new menu and quizzing each other on Monday night's specials. In only a few moments, they would wait on Palmer's customers for the first time in two months.
It was their initial night back in business following the Sept. 13 gas explosions that forced 70 Andover restaurants and dozens more in North Andover and Lawrence to shut down.
Although they were excited, they couldn't help but feel nervous about the return.
As loyal customers started to file into seats at the bar, and parties congregated into the surrounding tables, owner John Ingalls stood by watching, hoping people hadn't forgotten about his beloved business.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride," said Ingalls. "There were times when I can say I thought we were never going to get here."
Since the gas explosions and fires, Ingalls has been extremely vocal about the response from Columbia Gas regarding the restoration process, unafraid to voice his concerns and demand assistance and action from company representatives.
"With so many people affected, if you didn't scream the loudest you didn't get heard," he said Monday night.
Once his restaurant was assessed, he said he contacted Columbia Gas every day in search of the results of his assessment. Most of the time, he said, he would just get the runaround. Ingalls eventually got the answers he was looking for from a company called Peak Mechanical, which, he said, is the main reason he is now open.
"There were times when I felt like I did something wrong," Ingalls said. "I felt completely handcuffed, like it was way out of my hands. But I feel confident I gave it 110 percent."
Ingalls said he believes his consistent pressing might have been one of the reasons his business opened prior to others that were also impacted in downtown Andover. That, and the additional help of a sign he displayed out front of his restaurant that said: "Waiting for Columbia Gas..."
Though Ingalls said he could have used another day or two to prepare for his opening, his entire staff stepped up and was ready to host an event Monday night, while also welcoming back regulars.
Although Ingalls and other Andover restaurant owners are celebrating their return, others are not as fortunate.
Currently, there are six restaurants in Andover that remain closed since the gas explosions struck on Sept. 13, according to Andover Director of Business, Arts, and Cultural Development Ann Ormond. Those businesses include Casa Blanca, Elm Square Oyster Bar, Gati Thai, UBurger, McDonald's and Yella Grille. Other restaurants in town are open with limited menus, such as King's on Bartlet Street and LaRosa's on Barnard Street.
Some of them may reopen this week, Ormond said, while others may not reopen for another month or so. A number of restaurants in Lawrence and North Andover are also still affected. Sal's in Andover reopened last week.