The memory of an early morning blaze that destroyed her popular Wanganui restaurant and bar is still raw with Caroline Norton.

But Ms Norton, who built up Caroline's Celtic at the top end of Victoria Ave into one of the city's most popular licensed premises, is vowing it will rise from the ashes.

With insurance assessments of the fire expected to be finally signed off before the year's end, that will be the time when she makes decisions about the future of her business.

Fire ripped through the building in the early hours of September 26 leaving Ms Norton devastated not only at her loss but the fact 28 full-time and part-time staff she employed were suddenly jobless.


Speaking to the Chronicle this week for the first time since the blaze, she said the fire and its aftermath were still "very raw" and she still found it hard to talk about it. "I'd been there five-and-a-half years and it was a really popular place. We catered for everyone, from 1-year-olds having a birthday to 90-year-olds. It was just a wonderful, wonderful place for the community." Ms Norton said Caroline's Celtic had a name that spread far beyond the city boundaries.

"I don't do Facebook at all but one of my managers has been looking at that and we've been overwhelmed by the public reaction after the fire," she said.

She had built a strong and loyal team and said the biggest concern for her that September morning was the staff. "That was their security and their passion. That was the hardest thing to deal with because you had 28 people's livelihoods to consider and to comfort and guide them the best I could afterwards."

She remains in close contact with those staff members.

"We generally get together frequently but people need to move on because we're still not absolutely certain what's happening and when it will happen. It could be a few months, six months or longer.

"We're encouraging them to move on in their lives because they need to get their security sorted."

But Ms Norton remains determined to get the business back on track and is waiting for final insurance reports to be finished.

She said anyone who had been involved in a property fire would understand the process that has to be worked through and the time it takes.

"But if you put an insurance company's hat on you can probably understand that there's a lot of investigating that has to be done and done properly. It's amounts of checking and double checking."

The property was fully insured but she said when a fire of this destructive force hits "you're probably always under-insured".

She said it still hurts when she thinks of the personal memorabilia that was lost in the fire.

She vowed that the new Caroline's will resurrect much of what made the previous premises special.

"We know what our market is and we know that we're targeting all of the community to the best of our ability."

She likes to call it bringing a bit of country into town, something she brought into the city from her time running the tavern at Kai Iwi.

"It comes down to service. It doesn't matter what you do in life, it all comes down to the service you provide. And if you can get that pretty much right then people appreciate it."

Ms Norton said the Avenue location was unique because it was close to suburban areas and the state highway.

She had worked hard to make Caroline's Celtic hum but said achieving that hadn't been all about hard work.

"It's about loving your job. It's a pleasure doing what we were doing."

In the aftermath of that soul-destroying blaze, the business community rallied with one of the other city bars getting stuck into some fundraising for the staff who lost jobs.

A number of the Celtic staff found jobs at Stellar Restaurant and Bar. Not only that but Stellar manager Peter Ellicott organised two fundraising quiz nights to help out Celtic staff and their families with Christmas looming.

Ms Norton said no final decisions had been made yet about where and when a rebuild might occur but she was adamant the bar would be "absolutely recreated".

"We will reopen but it's not decided where and when yet because nothing is signed and sealed."