Edwards ham company sets up temporary offices

Published 1:59 pm Wednesday, January 27, 2016

By Matt Leonard

Staff Writer

Two days after a fire ripped through the family ham factory and the adjacent offices, employees of Edwards Virginia Smokehouse shuffled in and out of the shop, about 100 yards from where the fire erupted and where fire was still visible.

“We don’t even know what the next step is at this point,” Sam Edwards, son of the company’s owner said on Thursday.

But he did say the help and outpouring from the community was more than they expected.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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Edwards Virginia Smokehouse has been a staple in the Surry community for more than 90 years. Now the county’s ninth largest employer, according to Virginia Labor Market Information, the business started as a way for its founder, S. Wallace Edwards, to make a little extra money.

As a ferry captain, Edwards sold ham biscuits to travelers. The sales took off and formed the bedrock for the business whose future is now as cloudy as the smoke that billowed form its office last week.

Dispatchers were called to the fire at 12:39 p.m. and Mark Seward, the Surry County Volunteer fire chief, said crews were on scene through the night.

In total, 12 departments responded from Smithfield to Chesapeake with what Seward estimates were about 50 fire trucks. As temperatures dropped, fighting the fire became more and more difficult, he said.

“The temperatures and the wind were the worst part,” he said.

Pump valves froze. Hand lines were freezing. At one point the hydrant even froze. All of that added to what was already the largest fire Seward had seen in his career as a fire fighter.

He said crews arrived on the scene of the fire about 10 minutes after the original call came in.

As soon as smoke and flames were visible, Seward called for surrounding fire departments to join the scene. On the way over he had already put in the call to Smithfield Volunteer Fire Department to bring their larger firefighting vehicles.

By around 11 p.m. the fire was under control, he said. At that point crews were working on controlling the remaining hot spots and clean up.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, which is being conducted by the insurance company.

Edwards said they started the very next day with getting the business going again. He said he talked with contractors, electricians and their internet providers — simply looking to get their basic business needs back up and running.

A temporary office has been set up for the company in what was their old break room.

The company lost all of the product that was housed in their factory, but Edwards said an off-site location was housing some product that they will be selling off.

He said there have been some packing houses that have offered support and are willing to help with the cooking and slicing of product.

As for the employees of the company, Edwards said they would keep getting their paychecks until the company can’t afford it.

After the fire the culinary community took to the internet to share their condolences on social media.

“Still heart wrenching to think of the impact on the community,” Andrew Zimmern, a television and food personality said of the fire on Twitter.

The American Association of Meat Processors offered emotional support in a Facebook post made the day of the fire.

“We anticipate that when the time comes for Edwards to rebuild, there might be other plants that have equipment or supplies they can donate to assist the smokehouse,” Diana Dietz, an AAMP spokesperson said in an email. “AAMP can of coarse help facilitate any networking or contacts Edwards might need to start their rebuilding process.”

Last month the company’s product was featured on NBC’s “Today” show in a segment called “Stuff We Love.”

Judy Lyttle, the vice chair for the Surry County Board of Supervisors, said the county is looking forward to seeing Edwards Virginia Smokehouse rebuild.

“I know that we hope that Edwards will be able to rebuild,” Lyttle said. “It’s an important business in our community.”

Soon after a short conversation between Edwards and The Smithfield Times, a spokesperson for the company cancelled a follow-up meeting saying legal counsel for the company told them not to talk with the media. {/mprestriction}