Edgewood Denny's prepares to reopen after 2012 arson

No suspects have been named or caught in the nearly 12 months since an arsonist set fire to a Denny's restaurant in Edgewood, but that has not stopped restaurant operators from preparing to reopen later this month.

Owner Patrick Hess of Harford County said he hopes to open the Denny's July 21, once all electrical, HVAC, plumbing, fire safety and health inspections are complete.

"It's how I make my living," Hess said when asked why he decided to rebuild and reopen.

Employees are also undergoing pre-training in a building rebuilt after the Aug. 3, 2012, fire gutted it.

"I hope they do [reopen], because I want some Moons Over My Hammy," said Edgewood resident Edward Johnson, referring to Denny's signature scrambled egg, ham and cheese sandwich.

Johnson sat in a car in the restaurant parking lot Monday afternoon, waiting for his nephew to finish training in the building in the 1800 block of Edgewood Road, off Route 24.

Nia Booker, 22, of Edgewood, the girlfriend of Johnson's nephew, was also in the car, along with Johnson's niece, Christian Stewart, 14, also of Edgewood, and her two young cousins, were in the back seat.

Booker said she was happy to hear the Denny's would reopen, since many people she knew had been dining at the nearby Waffle House.

"You have more choices here than at Waffle House," she said of the Denny's.

Christian said she is also glad to be able to go back to Denny's.

"When it was closed everybody was going to Waffle House, but when it opens everybody's going to be coming back here," she remarked.

Signs posted on the glass doors and windows advised visitors the restaurant was closed for "Training in Progress," but added, "We hope to see you soon!"

Vans belonging to several contracting firms could be seen in the lot, and construction workers were going in and out.

The blaze sent flames and smoke through the roof, and Hess said nothing was left except the exterior walls.

"The restaurant has more than enough security and fire alarms and sprinklers," he said of the refurbished establishment. "You're not going to burn it to the ground again."

The fire, which investigators determined was started in the men's bathroom, caused an estimated $500,000 in damages, The Aegis reported in the wake of the incident.

About 50 customers and 20 staff members were in the restaurant when the fire started around 10:20 a.m., according to The Aegis.

It was controlled in about 45 minutes; a restaurant employee and one Abingdon volunteer firefighter were taken to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and treated and released.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal released video footage taken from surveillance cameras in the restaurant, which showed the white male suspect, wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses, T-shirt and shorts.

He is suspected of setting the Aug. 3 fire, and a smaller fire on July 4, also in the men's room. That fire was quickly contained and Denny's managers did not contact the fire department because they believed it had been an accident, The Aegis reported last year.

Despite the photos and videos released, and the promise of a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect, the case remains open nearly a year later.

"At this time, there has been no new information provided; it still remains an open investigation," Bruce Bouch, deputy state fire marshal and director of public education and media affairs with the Office of the State Fire Marshal, said.

Bouch said the man in the video footage became a suspect because he was shown leaving the bathroom around the same time both fires started.

"We continue to ask for community assistance in locating the suspect involved in the destruction of this local restaurant," Bouch said.

Anyone who has information can provide it anonymously by calling the state fire marshal's Bel Air office at 410-836-4844 or the Maryland Arson Hotline at 1-800-492-7529.

Hess only operates the Edgewood Denny's, but he has operated other local restaurants in the past.

His family runs Hess Enterprises of Aberdeen, a property management firm. His relatives once owned hotels in the area near the Denny's such as the Best Western, but they have since divested themselves from the hotels, he said.

"I'm just going to operate this one restaurant for right now," Hess said. "That's all I'm going to do."

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