Backyard Is Back

A year and a half after being destroyed by a fire, Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar is back and better than ever.

By Rebecca Stephens • Photos by Rick Lee

It was a Sunday. A Sunday morning much like any other in the middle of a Huntington summer. Sleepy. Quiet. Peaceful. But in a matter of minutes that peace turned to panic as word quickly spread of a fire in the historic Morris Building at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street.

Backyard Pizza

Drew and Megan Hetzer vividly remember that day, July 27, 2014. They stood by and watched as their two businesses, Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar and The Peddler, went up in flames.

At the time, Backyard had been in business for two years and had fast become a Huntington hotspot. The Peddler, however, was in its infancy, having only been open a matter of weeks.

But even before the Huntington Fire Department had squashed the flames, the Hetzers were already planning a comeback.

Backyard Pizza

“Megan and I built this restaurant from nothing,” Drew Hetzer says. “We would do it again 10 times if we had to. It doesn’t matter. We love this business so much and we believe in the Huntington community so much that there wasn’t even a question in our minds.”

Backyard officially reopened Oct. 17 in its new location at 833 Third Ave. The opening was quiet. So quiet, in fact, that most people didn’t know it was happening. Instead, word spread from mouth to ear to social media as many locals took to their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to rejoice in the return of the beloved restaurant.

“We just opened up the doors on a Saturday and eased into it,” Drew Hetzer says. “We’re getting back to what we love doing, which is providing an excellent dining experience to the area.”

Backyard offers the same popular pizzas as before, from the Olde New York to The Flying Piggie to the Woo-Tang, as well as calamari, scallop, oyster and shrimp dishes from the raw bar. All the pizzas are cooked in a traditional wood-fired oven, which is appropriately embellished with a Huntington-themed mosaic.

Backyard Pizza

“Huntington’s response has been amazing,” Drew Hetzer says. “We’re both from Huntington and we would not want to live anywhere else. Everyone here is genuine and does a great job of supporting local businesses, and that helps stimulate more growth. So far, the feedback has been great. People are saying it’s better than before.”

Megan Hetzer says after the fire, she and Drew began looking for a new location for their restaurants, ultimately purchasing the building on Third Avenue.

The building, which was developed in the early 1900s, used to be home to the H.L. Green department store but has sat vacant for many years. The space was just the right size for Backyard and The Peddler and allows for more expansion projects.

Megan Hetzer says the name they chose for the building, Vandalia 833, stems from the Vandalia colony, which were the first settlers in the Huntington area.

“It’s the perfect building for both restaurants,” Megan Hetzer says. “We couldn’t have found a better location. We’re working on our historical tax credit, too. We want to restore and revitalize this space.”

Backyard Pizza

Currently, the Hetzers are working on reopening The Peddler, which will start as an in-house brewery and transition into a restaurant as before. Expansion plans also include renovating the third floor for apartments, and a rooftop garden where ingredients for the restaurants will be grown. Drew Hetzer says once the brewery is complete they will be able to self-distribute all over the state, as well as to local restaurants and bars. The maximum amount of barrels they predict to produce annually is 2,000, which equates to about 4,000 full-size, half-barrel kegs.

“We’re big supporters of other West Virginia breweries so we’ll definitely have other local breweries on tap as well as our own, but ultimately they will all be locally produced beers,” Megan Hetzer says.

During the renovation period, the Hetzers opened a third restaurant, Wedge, at the Silo Golf Course in Lavalette. Wedge, which specializes in rustic, barbecue cuisine, offers a dinner menu Tuesday through Saturday as well as brunch Saturday and Sunday.

With the opening of Wedge, the Hetzers were able to hire many of their employees from Backyard and The Peddler to continue working while the renovations for Vandalia 833 were underway.

“They’re very loyal and they’ve stuck with us,” Megan Hetzer says. “They feel like family.”

“When you have the passion that they have it really shows in the food,” Drew Hetzer adds.

The Hetzers both say the Huntington community stepped up to help them and their employees after the fire with multiple benefit events and a GoFundMe page set up to raise money for their staff.

“We had people coming to help us do cleanup, and there was also money donated to the GoFundMe campaign for our employees,” Drew Hetzer says. “All local business owners are taking a huge risk, so the more people who try to support each other the better it will be. Huntington is a place that offers a lot of that.”

Residents of the Tri-State area have much to look forward to in the coming months as the Hetzers continue working toward the reopening of The Peddler and the overall restoration of 833 Third Ave.

“Life throws you curveballs, and for us as business owners and a married couple, we wanted to push through that and come back better than ever,” Drew Hetzer says.

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