Today's Alamo Steakhouse is a far cry from a year ago when deadly wildfires destroyed the Sevier County staple.
“We’ve been reopened for a month and it’s been a great month, it’s been nice to see all the customers we see every year or the locals who are excited to get back and support us,” owner Kelly Johnson said.
The Alamo isn’t the only business back from the ashes.
The Gatlinburg Sky Lift was rebuilt and has since reopened after flames damaged the attraction.
“Most of the damage was at the top of the mountain, the winds were blowing so fast it really didn't damage the hillside, it’s when the shop at the top caught on fire we received our most damage,” general manager Randy Watson explained.
After more than $1 million in repairs the sky lift is back in operation.
“It’s thankfulness, it’s a breath of fresh air after going through what we’ve seen happen and going through a rebuild. Getting to see people get on, come up and see God’s beauty – that’s the joy of seeing everything open again,” Watson said, describing the joy of being back open.
At Westgate Resort, 652 out of more than 1,000 units were destroyed.
Once the fire was out – efforts quickly shifted to getting back to work.
“The first thing we did was say, 'how are we going to get open,' and no one thought we could get open, and we did inside of 10 days,” said the company’s COO Mark Waltrip.
For resort management the plan wasn't just to reopen, but to come back better than ever.
“We’ve been building up here since 1999 and we’ve learned a lot of lessons. We improved the product as we went along. Every one of our owners will come back to a nicer unit that they ever had before,” Waltrip said.
The Lodge at Buckberry Creek lost six of their seven buildings. For owner Buddy McLean the path forward means finding a restaurant partner who can help him rebuild without changing what made this place special.
“That’s what Buckberry Lodge was all about, families and people coming to enjoy what the mountains had to offer,” McLean said.
In the midst of recovery, McLean found a symbol that would come to define how he viewed the fire and the need for faith moving forward.
“First day we really came up here we found this rocking chair turned over near a tree. Everything else was burned all around it building was gone, the tree was burned and this rocking chair was turned over and the only part of it that was burned was right here," he said. "We put it upright like it is now and my wife’s comment was, 'this would be a good chair to sit and pray for the restoration of the mountains.'"
For these business owners the real restoration of their town, their livelihood and their spirit didn't begin until their doors were back open.
“People talk about closure and I don’t think I knew what that meant until we got back open,” Johnson said.
“What we’ve got to do is be positive, look to the future and know that God’s got a plan in this,” explained McLean.
At the Gatlinburg Sky Lift the next step is the addition of a Sky Deck and Sky Bridge, two additional attractions for tourists they hope to have complete by Memorial Day.
For Buckberry Lodge, the future is building out with 50 new suites, a restaurant and a pavilion. All together it could take a year-and-a-half to get that accomplished.
Westgate Resorts hopes to be back to 100 percent in 24 months. Their progress is something you can see every time you visit.
They join every Gatlinburg business hoping people spread the word that the wildfires didn't take them out, but drove them to be better.