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Saturday, July 2, 2022
Reclaimed from ashes after devastating fire

NOTL woodworker revives business following blaze and his father’s disappearance

 

A lot of people in Mike Werner’s shoes might have thrown in the towel. But he’s not one to give up.

The 25-year-old Niagara-on-the-Lake resident lost just about everything in February 2021, when a fire destroyed his woodworking business, all of his products and the majority of his tools — about a $400,000 loss.

Shortly afterward, his father Darren Werner, who owned the property, went missing and has not been found.

On top of everything, Mike Werner was left to care for his grandmother, who has dementia.

But through it all, Werner has persevered and fought to bring back his business, aptly named Reclaimed from Roots.

Surrounded by leftover charred vehicles on the hollow remains of the property where his thriving business once stood, he now works in a roofless, burned-out greenhouse and is on his way to finishing up all the orders that went up in flames.

“I’ve always been pretty good at adapting to my situation,” he says, as he removes tarps from some of the long hardwood tables he’s working on.

“So it’s pretty much just doing that — and as long as I can produce quality, I’ll still produce. I really love what I do so it wasn’t like a question of getting back. It was just kind of like, how and when?”

Werner specializes in taking felled trees and turning them into beautiful live-edge countertops and pieces of art. Now he’s reclaiming his own business from literal ashes.

“That’s definitely what it is,” he says.

And true to the nature of the phoenix, things are returning to normal for Werner.

Since restarting his work, he’s been using one of the only pieces of equipment that survived the fire – a powerful industrial saw – and a generator to keep it running.

“It took a long time for that to even run decently and it could pretty much only cut smaller pieces so I just tried to sell off what I could from milling smaller lumber,” he says.

“I just pretty much lived off of that for a year and a little help from CERB. That was pretty much it.”

He began working again in the winter and toiled through frozen days, rain and snowfall to catch up on orders. At first he had a tarp atop the greenhouse, but it ripped off in a windstorm around Christmas. Since then he has braved the elements.

“I’ve been doing everything outside through all of that wonderful weather we’ve had,” he says.

He officially started taking new orders in March.

“I didn’t say I was officially back in business until I covered the orders that I had from the fire and all the product that was pre-sold in the showroom – because everything in there was already sold.”

He only has a few orders to catch up on, he says, out of about $80,000 worth of items he had to remake.

“Now, it’s like at least more business as usual. Just working in a lot smaller space,” he says.

He hopes also to rebuild his social media presence now, to let people know he’s back on track.

“I hadn’t posted anything since the fire,” he says.

‘I just need to reach more people to let them know that I am back in business because they’re still probably very unsure with the fire and everything.”

That and the fact there isn’t a building up yet, he says. But undeterred, he has his burned-out greenhouse and 20 by 15 garage.”

He uses trees from around Niagara and specializes in large slab dining tables made from one piece of wood.

That was a challenge when he was trying to complete orders to specific dimensions, but he says he managed by ordering the wood from some local suppliers.

“I had to go and match those trees and species and dimensions as best as I could to be able to cover exactly what they ordered and had purchased.”

He said people were understanding and he had a “very low dropout rate” among his clients.

“I think I might have only lost like three customers.”

Now, he said he’s taking orders again and hopes to build back better than ever.

Meanwhile, he reminds people police are still looking for his father. The homicide squad has taken over the investigation.

“The search is still on. They’re still looking for him,” he says.

He asks anyone who might have any information about his father’s whereabouts to contact Niagara Regional Police or Crime Stoppers.

Werner hopes “someone thinks of something that someone didn’t before. I just like to keep it out there that he is still missing and they’re still looking for leads.”

“They’re looking for what happened.”

Werner’s shop is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and he says the best way to reach him is through his website reclaimedfromroots.com.