BATH — Karl and Mindy Schaumberg were looking forward to the one-year anniversary of owning Southgate Restaurant in November, but a fire Sept. 27 destroyed that milestone, along with the dream the couple worked for years to manifest.

Lisa Fraser, who owns Fiona’s Catering and Take-Out just down the street, knows a lot about that dream because Mindy worked for her for 16 years when Fraser owned The Galley on Centre Street.

Less than 24 hours after the fire, she organized a benefit pig roast to help the Schaumbergs and their 10 employees. She even hired their prep cook, who’s worked at Southgate for the last 13 years.

That’s a relief to Karl. It’s too soon to say when Southgate might reopen – and whether it will remain at its premium spot across the street from Bath Iron Works’ south gate entrance.

“We’re just playing it day by day, trying to get out of the shock stage. I don’t know what the future holds,” he said.

The Schaumbergs bought Southgate less than a year ago from Steve Leask, signing a new 10-year lease on the building at 510 Washington Street, with owner Alan Elwell.

Both in their early 40s, the couple share more than 20 years of restaurant experience. Plus, Southgate was a known environment. Karl managed it for two years before deciding the time was right to make the leap to ownership.

“It’s just a shame,” said Grady Elwell, who manages several of his father’s properties, including the Southgate building.

“You got this guy who just bought it less than a year ago and bought all this equipment … it was his lifelong dream. That’s what hurts so much. He put his heart and soul into it and now it’s gone.”

The building has housed a restaurant for as long as Elwell remembers. “It’s been a restaurant for at least 30 to 40 years,” he said.

His father started it but couldn’t keep up with the demands of both restaurant ownership along with running Elwell’s Sheet Metal, on Leeman Highway.

“It’s always been a Bath fixture,” Karl said, but he didn’t know just how dear it was in the hearts of breakfast and lunch patrons until last week. “Words cannot express how overwhelmed we feel by the community helping us out like this.”

Fraser said the tight-knit diner community is always ready to help each other out, and wasn’t surprised that other restaurants were quick to support their Southgate neighbors. The Galley is helping with the pig roast, too, and B Side Barbecue is supplying the meat.

The event is planned for 5 p.m. Oct. 28, at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Middle Street in Bath.

Like Fiona’s, B Side – which recently opened on Pleasant Street in Brunswick – encouraged Southgate to send over any employees who needed work.

“I could just cry,” said Doreen Beaulieu, who’s worked as a waitress at Southgate for 10 years. “People are so good in times like these.”

She’s found work at Fairground Cafe in the Topsham Fair Mall. “I went in Friday and they said, ‘do you want to work Saturday.’ I was so relieved,” she said.

Another Topsham diner is pitching in, as well. A former Southgate cook who is now the head cook at the Kopper Kettle organized a $12 all-you-can-eat fish fry at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 4. All proceeds will go to Southgate employees and their families.

Reflecting on the outpouring of care and concern from – basically – his competition, Karl said, “Diners are different than regular restaurants. They’re more personal. That makes them special. We’re all family, not just at Southgate, but everyone who does this kind of work.”

But it’s not just local diners. The Plant Home, a retirement community on the Kennebec, is helping out, and so is Midcoast Pizza and More, at the other end of BIW.

The Schaumbergs’ 10-year-old son is a huge fan of Mario’s Pizza, and the business offered several free pies to the boy.

“We are absolutely surprised by all this support,” Karl said. “With all the bad out there right now, it’s good to see people come together like this.”

The State Fire Marshal’s office investigated the property on Sept. 28, sifting through what remained of the kitchen to determine the cause of the fire, according to Sgt. Joel Davis.

As of Sept. 29, the Schaumbergs still have no answers as to how it happened. Fortunately, the business was insured.

The building’s owners are waiting on that news, too. “I don’t have official word from the Bath Fire Department or the fire marshal’s office, but it certainly looks like a total loss,” Elwell said. “We were thankful to hear no one was in the restaurant when it happened.”

Firefighters from Bath, West Bath, Topsham and Brunswick, as well as Bath Iron Works assisted in fighting the fire.

Bath Fire Capt. Chris Cummings said the timing of the fire is part of why crews were successful at quickly extinguishing the blaze. The restaurant was closed, and the parking lot in front of the building was empty, allowing crews to get in close.

While the future of Southgate is uncertain, Elwell said his family is “looking at the next steps.”

“We’re anxious to make the next decisions once we get all the information from the investigators and the insurance company. We’d like to see it continue as a restaurant. We’re hopeful we’ll come up with something that can work for everyone.”

Tickets for the Southgate benefit pig roast on Oct. 28 are $15, available at either Fiona’s Catering, The Galley, or at the door.

Reporter Chris Chase contributed to this story.