Around 8 a.m. Sunday, Drew Walston received a disturbing notification to his phone.
The alert said Pub Dog, a Columbia restaurant he manages, had its windows shattered, its power fail and that a robbery might have taken place. Walston quickly drove to the pizzeria/drafthouse.
“I drove [to the restaurant] in fear of losing an entire business,” Walston said.
He saw Pub Dog’s structure and outside tables and chairs were still intact. However, as he kept driving, he saw the rest of the complex on Stanford Boulevard was destroyed. Pub Dog was farthest from the heart of the explosion.
Pub Dog is one of 21 businesses displaced after a gas explosion destroyed the Lakeside Office Park retail-business complex on Sunday. A Social Security Administration office, nail salon, Indian grocery store and a marketing firm, among other companies, were affected by the blast and could not operate in their spaces. No one was injured in the explosion, officials said.
The Columbia Social Security office announced this week it was closed because of the explosion, and officials recommended people visit other offices or access services online or by phone. Social Security employees who worked there have temporarily relocated to surrounding offices.
A Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokesman said Thursday the company is still investigating the cause of the explosion.
As BGE officials and insurance agents scour the property in the coming weeks, business owners are still trying to figure out how to rebuild.
The Howard County Economic Development Authority, a public-private partnership, is trying to help.
A spokesman said the authority is trying to help businesses identify relocation options, as well as facilitate communication between the Howard County Health Department regarding food disposal.
Walston, who has managed Pub Dog for 13 years, has never had something like this happen.
“I’ve had restaurants close due to hurricanes, blizzards and riots," said Walston, who has been in the restaurant industry for 22 years. "I’ve never experienced a natural gas explosion or any long-term closing such as this.”
Pub Dog is one of the more fortunate businesses. Walston said the restaurant “is in surprisingly great condition” given the circumstances.
He said the restaurant could quickly reopen if not for the destroyed parking lot and lack of running water, gas and electricity.
Walston said he rented a truck earlier this week to dump the bulk of the remaining food at a landfill.
He estimated the restaurant lost about $4,000 because of discarded food. Walston could not provide figures for how much this long-term shutdown is costing the business.
He did say, however, being closed is costing his 45-person staff a lot of money. Pub Dog has two other locations, in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood and in Westminster, so the staff can sometimes pick up shifts theree.
Walston has started a GoFundMe to help raise money for his staff. As of Friday morning, it had raised more than $11,655 of the $50,000 goal. Walston is actively looking for another space in Columbia to open a temporary location.
Lakeside Office Park is owned by Holland Properties, a real estate company based in Pennsylvania.
Roger Holland, who owns Holland Properties, said Wednesday they were able to help some of the remaining tenants “retrieve some sensitive documents.”
Holland said the company would rely on the Howard County Economic Development Authority to assist with relocation while they concentrate on the building at large.
The economic authority has reached out to the complex’s tenants so they can help find new or temporary locations as quickly as possible.
“The building is extremely dangerous in its current position,” Holland said. “They do allow some with an engineer to come in, and they do have some areas they can access. Most of them are still in limbo. I know they’re still looking” for spaces.