Looking back at many of the stories we covered in 2005, it seems that they came down to fire and water, one way or another

Looking back at many of the stories we covered in 2005, it seems that they came down to fire and water, one way or another. Three prominent local eateries were destroyed by fire during the year, and though neither Hurricane Katrina nor Rita did any actual damage in Austin, thousands of people arrived here as a result of their combined devastation. I've spent the last week or so touching base with the principal players in some 2005 stories to update us on their current situations. Just before Christmas, Beau Theriot celebrated the opening of the Top of the O, a new upstairs party facility at the Oasis (6550 Comanche Trail, 266-2441). Theriot and his staff have been working nonstop to restore the internationally known lakeside retreat since it was almost completely destroyed by fire back on June 1. Theriot reports that the kitchen and some interior dining space are also finished, but they're still working on a 25,000-square-foot indoor space and many new decks, with hopes of a completion date sometime in March. He also disclosed that he has persuaded respected Houston chef Tim Keating to relocate here and become executive chef at the Oasis. "Tim will definitely upgrade the quality of our food while keeping it fun and casual," Theriot tells me. "He'll also oversee our vineyard and our new olive trees, and take charge of developing a line of Oasis-brand food products. We are very pleased he's coming on board"... If there's a Queen Mother of Austin comfort food, it would have to be Dot Hewitt, the indefatigable owner of Dot's Place (13805 Orchid Ln.), the beloved cafeteria-style eatery that burned to the ground in October of 2004. Though the restaurant was not insured, Hewitt bounced back quickly. She located kitchen space nearby and began serving a scaled-back version of her popular down-home menu from a mobile cart on the restaurant property. With the support of her church and many loyal customers, she began raising funds to rebuild. For a time, it appeared that many of the contractors, carpenters, electricians, and plumbers who had frequented Dot's for so many years would pitch in and help with the rebuilding. City permits were secured, but local response to Katrina seems to have set back Hewitt's fundraising efforts as well as depleted the available labor pool for the time being. She's still serving lunch weekdays from 11am to 2pm and looking for donations and/or investment backing... Not long after local restaurant mogul Reed Clemons made the difficult business decision to close his longtime Warehouse District mainstay Mezzaluna and make a huge investment in rechristening it Capitol Brasserie (310 Colorado, 472-6770), his reliable money-maker across the street went up in flames. The Bitter End Bistro & B-Side Lounge (311 Colorado) was a solid success, known for sophisticated, satisfying pub grub and well-crafted beers. The B-Side was undamaged by the October fire and remained open until the end of December. Clemons was eager to rebuild on the site, but the landowners have other plans for the property. A source in the San Gabriel Restaurant Group office informed us that while Clemons would ultimately like to re-create the Bitter End in a new location, any plans to do so are on the back burner while he concentrates on building the success of the Brasserie... Unsinkable chef Happy Abdelbaki has surfaced again, this time in Osyka, Miss., about 90 miles north of New Orleans. He and his family have found refuge in a bed and breakfast lodge there, and he's serving lunch to a fast-growing clientele during the week. He's also found a food manufacturing plant in nearby Magnolia where he can resume production of his line of Chef Happy Foods. We'll keep you posted when they'll be available in the Austin market... As you can tell if you've read "Postmarks" recently, the smoke has cleared and a new generation of the Vayas family has plans for a diner in the old GM Steakhouse location on Lamar. Chris Vayas promises to keep us informed about his progress.

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Chris Vayas, Reed Clemons, Dot Hewitt, Happy Abdelbaki, Beau Theriot, Tim Keating

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