The Witham family had just sat down to eat dinner on Feb. 11 when the phone rang.
Before they could take a bite, they were informed their Provo restaurant, Los Hermanos, was on fire.
“We all jumped up from the table and didn’t eat the dinner and jumped in our van and drove as fast as we could to downtown Provo,” owner Lisa Witham said in an email. “The restaurant had smoke pouring out of every door, window and crack, and fire trucks surrounding it.”
The family stood on the streets of downtown Provo, watching the fire burn for several hours.
“We cried, we shook, we were in shock and devastated,” Witham said. “(We) couldn’t believe that our 30-plus years of business was being burned to the ground.”
They gathered behind the building around 1 a.m. the next morning crying and praying, determined to do whatever it took to get Los Hermanos up and running again.
“Not only for our family, but for our wonderful and loyal and dedicated employees who have worked for us for decades and our wonderful customers,” Witham said.
Just over two months later, the Utah County staple has reopened its doors from a new location at University Place in Orem.
“We’re so happy, so excited, and we’ve had so many people help us and we believe miracles and miracles, just doing this, and our family’s come together,” Witham said through tears at the restaurant’s soft opening. “We just don’t believe in quitting.”
Owners Craig and Lisa Witham, both California natives, met as theater students in a production of “Our Town” at Brigham Young University. By the time Craig Witham was about to start a graduate program, they had a few children and were looking for “a little house to buy,” according to Lisa Witham.
“The guy that owned the house said to us, ‘Do you want to buy a restaurant too?’ And we said, ‘What restaurant?’ It was Los Hermanos,” Lisa Witham said. “It was a tiny little operation on Center Street and it was our favorite restaurant.”
The Withams charged up all of their credit cards and borrowed from a relative to buy the Provo restaurant.
“We absolutely knew that we could do something wonderful with Los Hermanos,” Lisa Witham said.
Craig Witham developed all of Los Hermanos’ signature Mexican dishes, including the fajitas, specialty drinks, fried ice cream, and street market and seafood items, according to Lisa Witham.
“He is a true creative and also loves to eat,” Lisa Witham said. “We never change our chips and salsa or our core menu items. We feel that they do not belong to us, they belong to our customers, and always try to be consistent with those.”
Utah County expansion
Lisa Witham worked as a sales manager at Sears in Provo to put her husband through school and support her family for the first four years they owned Los Hermanos. They put all of the money they earned at Los Hermanos back into the restaurant and expanded into several more buildings on the corner of Center Street and University Avenue.
“We absolutely love Provo and Utah County and we had always thought we would go back to California, but we knew this was a wonderful place to raise a family and we never left,” Lisa Witham said.
About three years after they started the Provo location, the Withams came upon an opportunity to convert a 150-year-old Lindon farmhouse into a second Los Hermanos restaurant.
“It was an actual working farm with corn and chicken and cows and a barn and a farm family when we bought it,” Lisa Witham said. “It was a very quick success and we have lots of loyal customers in Lindon.”
The Withams’ family grew along with the restaurants, and they now have 18 “one-of-a-kind” children, nine biological and nine adopted.
“Because of Los Hermanos, we have been able to support and raise these children,” Lisa Witham said.
Up in flames
About 30 years later, less than two hours after Los Hermanos’ office manager had locked up the Provo restaurant for the day on Feb. 11, the building was engulfed in flames.
“The fire marshal said it was a complete freak accident and that one million stars had to line up in order for this to happen,” Lisa Witham said.
The restaurant had been closed for a few days while a contractor installed new hardwood floors, which no one ever got to walk on.
“We are so grateful that no one was hurt,” Lisa Witham said. “Had the restaurant been open, we would have had our full staff on and be in the middle of a dinner rush.”
Five large trucks poured water on the top of the building to stop the fire, leaving the basement flooded with 6 1/2 feet of water.
“Our entire dish room and half of the kitchen fell into the basement,” Lisa Witham said. “The beautiful offices above us received severe damage and the roof was totally gone.”
Though the fire destroyed most of what was in the Provo store, the Withams were able to restore an old piano, a buffalo head decoration, an antique cash register and some stained glass, which are now on display at the new Orem restaurant.
“While it is extremely difficult for any of us to go back to the fire scene or even drive by our old store, as we get a pit in our stomach and heart, we have a wonderful opportunity in front of us that has come together quickly,” Lisa Witham said.
The Witham family has been “working tirelessly” on Los Hermanos’ new Orem location since the fire, according to Lisa Witham.
“The University Place has been so good to us and we are excited about this new chapter for a Los Hermanos,” Lisa Witham said. “In this beautiful building, we think we will be able to expand our catering, and we have lots more places for a wonderful gathering for families and businesses.”
Lisa Witham said she thinks customers will feel at home in the Orem restaurant, which features past favorites from Los Hermanos’ original store, including a recreation of the garden room and the “early West feeling and vibe” of both of their restaurants in one of the large dining rooms at the new location.
“We are excited to be a part of this vibrant community here at the University Place and can’t wait to see our customers again, eating bowls of chips and salsa and all of their other favorites,” Lisa Witham said.