Just days after vehicle crashes through building, Big Mill restaurant reopens; owner says SUV was going 50 mph

photo by: Kim Callahan

Emergency crews respond after a car struck the Big Mill restaurant at Ninth and Mississippi streets on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022.

Brad Ziegler is convinced that a German stonemason a century ago saved lives at his Lawrence restaurant last Friday.

Ziegler got a call from the manager at his Big Mill restaurant saying that a vehicle had crashed through the storefront of the restaurant at the corner of Ninth and Mississippi streets. When Ziegler arrived on scene, a simple thought went through his mind.

“I just kept thinking how lucky it was that no one was seriously injured,” Ziegler said. “It was a miracle.”

Ziegler thinks he knows where at least some of the credit for the miracle should go: old-fashioned construction. The Big Mill building dates back to the early 1900s, when it was constructed as a grocery store building. Ziegler said records indicated that the building was constructed by German stonemasons, and they used a lot of brick.

“I think that saved lives,” Ziegler said. “I think that car would have kept going through the building if it had been modern construction of steel and 2-by-4s. But that brick corner really slowed it down.”

photo by: Submitted

A vehicle that hit the Big Mill restaurant at Ninth and Mississippi streets is shown shortly after the accident on Nov. 4, 2022.

One thought Ziegler did not have when he arrived on the scene Friday is that Big Mill — known for its Detroit-style pizza, hamburgers and bar — would reopen anytime soon. But the restaurant indeed did reopen at 4 p.m. on Tuesday.

“I thought we would be closed down for months,” Ziegler said. “I was shocked at the amount of damage that had been done.”

Shocked is a good descriptor for the whole incident. Ziegler said three customers on Friday evening were sitting at the table directly in front of the window where the vehicle collided with the building. None of them saw the vehicle coming, Ziegler said.

Despite that, all of them suffered relatively minor injuries, Ziegler said.

“The ambulance crew checked them out and said they were OK,” Ziegler said. “They were in shock.”

A detail from investigators on the scene surely didn’t do anything to calm their nerves. Ziegler said police told him the vehicle was traveling 50 to 60 mph when it hit the building. Ziegler said investigators told him it appeared the vehicle hydroplaned on the rainy night and spun out before it hit the building.

Photos published by the Journal-World show the back of the vehicle pointing toward the building, but Ziegler said it appears the driver’s side door actually was the first part of the vehicle to hit the building.

“It was a pretty bad wreck,” Ziegler said. Police told the Journal-World on Friday that the driver was taken to a regional hospital, but by Friday night was in stable condition with noncritical injuries.

Emergency crews on Friday night determined the building was struck hard enough to cause structural damage, and the building was evacuated. Ziegler said he brought in an engineering firm on Saturday and “followed all of their advice.” Temporary repairs to the building made it structurally sound again, and it received its approvals to reopen.

photo by: Submitted photo

Construction crews built a temporary wall in the corner of the Big Mill restaurant after the building was struck by a vehicle on Nov. 4, 2022.

Much more work remains to be done on the building, though. Ziegler said a temporary wall was built to cover the hole the car left in the storefront. The temporary wall allows for indoor dining to resume, although a few seating spots have been lost. From the outside, the building still looks very much damaged.

Ziegler said it will take several months for the exterior work to be completed. He said one key decision in that project already has been made.

“We are going to build it back the way it was,” Ziegler said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A tarp covers the corner of the Big Mill restaurant, pictured on Nov. 8, 2022.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.