Ken Homan stood in disbelief Monday as he watched crews clear the remains of a storage building that was heavily damaged by an early morning fire last Wednesday at Braun Seafood Co. in Cutchogue.
Nearby, soot-covered boxes of product piled up in a dumpster, exceeding $1 million in losses for the seafood company, which was founded in 1928.
The overwhelming sense of loss was quickly replaced by gratitude to first responders and community members who rallied to support their friends and the company.
“The only reason we are open is because the firemen went in harm’s way to save this place,” said Mr. Homan, the company’s president, thankful that the iconic Main Road market, to-go counter and offices were untouched by the blaze.
The fire broke out around 3 a.m. June 12, with flames up to 50 feet high sweeping across the top of the facility. Mr. Homan frantically raced to the scene, watching as smoke and flames threatened his entire livelihood.
“All I could think of when I pulled in here was, this is my whole life, my father’s whole life, my son’s future, and all of my employees … All those jobs. That’s why we had to keep going.”
Firefighters from as far as Jamesport to East Marion were able to control the flames by 6:30 a.m.
Though an investigation to determine the cause of the fire is still ongoing, Mr. Homan believes the fire started in the area near the freezer compressors.
The market reopened by noon the same day, which Mr. Homan attributes mainly to the fact that two of their biggest refrigerated trucks were returning from The New Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx, full of fresh seafood, at the time of the fire.
One of those trucks was driven by general manager Keith Reda, who heard the news as he was crossing the Throgs Neck Bridge.
“He couldn’t believe what I was telling him,” Mr. Homan recalled.
Soon after, offers to donate bags of ice, share freezer space and feed the staff poured in from near and far.
“So many people have been so good to us,” Mr. Homan said, easily listing over a dozen local businesses that have stepped up to assist. “It really gives you the drive, every day, because the first three days were the hardest. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat.”
Driving home Friday after what seemed like the longest few days, Mr. Homan admitted he felt weary.
He turned on his car stereo and heard the familiar Simon & Garfunkel tune, “Bridge over Troubled Water,” the lyrics striking him in a different way than ever before.
He’s never felt luckier to live in the tight-knit Southold community.
“It makes you want to fight harder,” he said, realizing what the business means to so many people.
The hardest part so far, Mr. Homan said, was telling his 91-year-old father, Jim, who purchased the business from the Braun family in 1958. Under Jim Homan’s leadership and his son’s business acumen, the company was transformed into a regional supplier with over 600 wholesale clients.
“He saw the opportunity and kept adding on,” Mr. Homan said.
In the Homans’ many decades in business, there have always been ups and downs. But through the brown tides that threatened the shellfishing industry in the ’80s to the Recession of 2008, they have always prevailed.
“This is a very difficult business,” Mr. Homan said. “They told me that I would be a dinosaur 20 years ago because of the big conglomerates. I was determined to not let that happen.”
The family and team behind Braun’s Seafood has vowed to bounce back “better than ever” after the fire.
The storage building awaits eventual demolition and it will likely be months before they can begin to rebuild. In the meantime, Mr. Homan said, he’s got his work cut out for him to thank the first responders who battled the fire.
For the time being, the wholesale business is operating out of several refrigerated trailers on site. It’s not ideal for their busiest time of the year, but Mr. Homan finds continual inspiration in his staff of 60 employees.
“Everybody works so hard,” he said. “I haven’t heard anybody complain.”
Top Caption: The building days after the fire. (Credit: Tara Smith)