It could be well into summer before anyone sips a cold beer on the Salty Nut Cafe’s back deck.
The building was badly damaged by an arson fire sparked by a Molotov cocktail Jan. 6.
Police made an arrest in the case Wednesday, but the rebuilding effort will take much longer.
Early estimates for the popular Five Points hangout’s reopening are in three to five months, said Phil Hopewell, Salty Nut’s general manager. A contractor and the insurance company are assessing damage to the walls, ceiling and furnishings, including tables and benches that were built into the floors and walls.
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“Obviously, it’s been a hectic couple of weeks trying to rebuild and working with officials to bring someone to justice,” Hopewell said. “Now, we’re happy to focus on rebuilding.”
The Salty Nut building suffered an estimated $300,000 worth of damage in a Jan. 6 fire started by a Molotov cocktail thrown through a broken window. However, the costs have been even deeper in lost revenue and in the nearly 30 people who are unemployed while the restaurant rebuilds, Hopewell said.
The Salty Nut might open an outdoor bar under its deck for the March 17 St. Pat’s in Five Points festival, Hopewell said. The one-day festival is huge for bar owners, as an estimated 20,000 people yearly pour into Five Points.
“That’s an optimistic goal,” Hopewell said.
The man accused of burning the Salty Nut remained in the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on Thursday.
Walter Podewil, 22, was being held under two bonds of $25,000 each. He has been charged by University of South Carolina police and the Columbia Fire Department with seven counts of possessing and using an incendiary device.
Officials charged him with possessing an incendiary device because it carries a larger penalty than an arson charge, said Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins. Possession of an incendiary device carries a maximum of 20 years in prison, whereas an arson charge has a maximum of 10, Jenkins said.
Police accuse Podewil in separate incidents of throwing seven Molotov cocktails at vacant houses and garbage bins as well as off of multi-story parking garages and into streets. But the Salty Nut, which burned in the early morning hours of Jan. 6, was the biggest target.
The restaurant caught fire around 4 a.m. after someone broke a window in it and tossed in a homemade firebomb, police said. .
Investigators quickly figured out the Salty Nut fire was arson after specially trained dogs found a Corona bottle that had been used to make a Molotov cocktail, Hopewell said.
Investigators said the firebombs were made from beer bottles, duct tape, rags and an accelerant.
Fire investigators pegged Podewil as their suspect after a USC Police Department officer on patrol Saturday morning discovered a shattered firebomb that had failed to ignite on Whaley Street, near its intersection with Main Street. Fingerprints found on duct tape connected the homemade bomb to Podewil, police said.