Dave Murry didn't want to pick up the phone when it rang at 6 a.m. on Thursday. He was still catching up on sleep after working until 10:30 p.m., filling in as the chef at Fuel Bar and Grille, a biker bar and restaurant he owns in Fort Worth.
"I woke up and it was the Fort Worth Fire Department telling me the building was on fire," he told the Observer. "Someone broke in with a pry bar, took the cash bag and some bottles of booze and set fire to the bar just for fun." When he got to the establishment, the flames were out but the smoke was still billowing.
The Fort Worth Police Department said the fire was reported about 4:30 a.m. "The cause for this incident has been ruled incendiary and determined to meet the elements of offense for Texas Penal Code 28.02 Arson," the Fort Worth Fire Department Investigations Unit responded to the Observer via email.
Murry said the fire started on the actual bar. About 200 bottles of booze fed the flames, torching ceiling panels and melting the bar's newly purchased digital, point-of-sale registers. "It didn't burn the building down," Murry said. "What we did lose is many years of memories, pictures of events, birthdays and wet T-shirt contests from when we opened."
He hopes the establishment will reopen in three to four weeks, after costing him $150,000 in repairs and lost revenue. The building's owner is committed to reopening, he said. Murry says he's starting a GoFundMe page for his six employees who will be out of work while the repairs are done. Since he owns Reno's Chop Shop in Deep Ellum as well, he says he'll be all right. "We won't take a penny [of donated money]," he says. "We'll split it evenly for the employees."
The possible motive is "too early to determine, investigation still going," a Fort Worth police spokesman said, and the fire department investigation is also ongoing. But Murry is emphatic when he says that being a "biker-friendly bar" didn't make him a target.
This biker bar is not affiliated with any particular group. In fact, in the aftermath of the shootout in Waco in May 2015, Murry decided to not allow bikers to wear their patch-decorated MC jackets in the bar. "I stated to the powers-that-be that, until matters are settled, there are no MC colors at the bars," he said. "I know several of the MC [leadership] personally, and there doesn't seem to be any animosity that I know of."
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His choice to be a neutral ground for bikers was an obvious choice of reward over risk. He's seen other establishments shut down just for being the site of violence, and he and his wife have their life savings wrapped up in these bars. "I hated to lose that business, but we posted 'No Colors' and everyone has respected that," Murry said. "We want to have a place where you can check your problems at the door and everyone is welcome."
Murry isn't exactly outlaw material, although he knows a diverse array of MC members. He said he counts Dallas Police Department motorcycle officers as friends (and he rides with them) and as it turns out, just before the arson, he had returned from an 18-day run through the western U.S. with a group including a retired DPD police sergeant. His establishments are not hotbeds of outrageous behavior. He said no one has been arrested in either place. Fort Worth Police told the Observer there have been "approximately 14 police calls for service/reports at that location since 2005." This is an enviably quiet record, given these stats include things like false security system alarms, which Murry said accounts for some of them.
Because he feels the arson was not MC-related — he said it's "suspicious" how much the perps knew about the layout — Murry's not worried about a similar attack at Reno's Chop Shop. DPD public affairs confirmed that the department has not received a request to increase patrols for his Deep Ellum location.
Instead, Murry said he is focused on his out-of-work employees and getting "Fuel 2.0" up and running. But first, he needs rest. "My lungs are filled with smoke," he says. "And I'm very tired."