'Everything was torn to pieces’: Bottoms Up pizza a literal mark of Gaston recovery

‘We came back and have been successful ever since.’ Bottoms Up pizza recounts horror of Gaston 15 years later, and paying off million dollar FEMA loan

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - People and cars were trapped as roads went completely underwater. Businesses and homes were destroyed, leaving victims struggling to recover for years to come.

It’s been 15 years since the remnants of Tropical Storm Gaston left a path of devastation in Central Virginia.

Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom was hit the worst due to the neighborhood lying in the James River flood plane. Pooling rainwater rose swiftly, causing Rainwater rose swiftly, as it pooled in the Bottom.

Many storefronts weren’t able to recover, but Bottoms Up Pizza survived one of the biggest disasters the city has ever encountered.

Owner Dirk Graham recalls that Monday evening, when he says flood waters began to rage through the city within an hour of the intense rainfall that dropped nearly a foot of rain on Richmond within eight hours.

“We didn’t expect in our wildest dreams that it could do what it did,” Graham said.

Graham has since painted a line on the restaurant’s wall, showing how high the water rose inside - 6 feet, 2 inches.

“And there’s another 3-foot step up to get in (the restaurant),” Graham said.

The building’s kitchen and first floor were completely submerged. Surveillance video shows literal remnants of the kitchen floating away.

Nearly two dozen employees and customers ran upstairs to the second floor deck.

“The water outside was already at my eye level,” general manager Charlie Lichter said. “One employee, I found him upstairs and he was crying. He was almost inconsolable because he wasn’t going to be next to his daughter. That’s when I realized I was in charge of almost two dozen people’s lives.”

Fire crews from Goochland ultimately rescued the group from the deck using rafts.

The damage left to one of Shockoe Bottom’s most recognizable restaurants totaled more than $1.5 million.

Millions spent to improve drainage system

“It was a disaster. Everything was torn to pieces,” Graham said.

But Graham believed in his business, the city and himself. He refused to give up and employed more than 100 people at the time.

Graham rebuilt Bottom’s Up in what is now a 124-year-old building using insurance money and $1 million dollar FEMA loan.

“Everybody thought that was going to be it for Bottoms Up," Graham said. “But I felt confident in our brand and who we are as a city. We’re Richmond to the bone. We came back and have been successful ever since.”

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