On the fire, hope and pie: Bumbleberry Inn owner reflects on past, looks to the future

ST. GEORGE — The recipes to the Bumbleberry Inn’s famous pie filling and crust are kept safely behind locked doors. And rightfully so. For decades, the hotel, cafe and gift shop located on Zion Park Boulevard has acted as an important tourist stop for visitors on their way to Zion National Park, serving up slices of pie and a bit of nostalgia.

A vintage sign on Zion Park Boulevard marks the historic Bumbleberry Inn and famous pie as it once looked, Springdale, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Trisha Clark, St. George News

The Bumbleberry Inn has been owned and operated by the Smith family since 1972, making it the oldest family-owned and operated business in Springdale.

The 15-acre property encompasses a hotel, a theater for plays, Porter’s Smokehouse & Grill, which is leased out to Hank Moore who also owns Oscar’s Cafe in Springdale; and the hotel’s gift shop where the famous bumbleberry pies, jams and jellies are sold.

The family property and offerings, particularly the pies, helped put owner Stan Smith and his siblings through school, he said, and in turn, it also helped put his own children through school.

So when Smith got the early morning call that his family business was on fire, it was both shocking and devastating.

On the fire

Smith was in Branson, Missouri for a trip that had been planned well before the COVID-19 pandemic when news of the fire reached him, he said.

He had gone to see some Christmas shows in the well-known entertainment city.

Only rubble remains after a fire destroyed Porter’s Smokehouse & Grill and the Bumbleberry Inn Gift Shop, Springdale, Utah, Nov. 19, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Stark, St. George News

Smith was in a deep sleep in his hotel room when he got the call that the building in front of the Bumbleberry Inn, which housed the theater, Porter’s Smokehouse & Grill, and the hotel’s gift shop, was on fire. That was about 1:30 a.m. Central Standard Time, and emergency personnel had been called.

Unable to be on scene, Smith said he spent the rest of the long morning on the phone with his children, receiving updates and pictures as the fire destroyed the historic building.

Today only rubble remains on the site of the front building, though the hotel, which sits on the back of the property, was untouched and is still open for guests.

According to a previous St. George News report, fire crews fought the blaze continuously for more than two hours, and shortly after 3:30 a.m., the fire was controlled. Even after it was under control, the ladder truck continued dousing the building, an effort that would continue for many more hours.

“I was feeling kind of helpless because there was nothing that I could do,” Smith said. “The only comfort I got was, if I was there, there’s nothing I could do either.”

Smith said he spent the rest of the week in Branson, watching shows, jumping up every time the phone rang to speak with whomever he needed to speak with, and not feeling very Christmasy.

“I wasn’t too much in the Christmas spirit,” Smith said.

Smith’s daughter, Trisha Clark, runs the gift shop. She grew up at Bumbleberry Inn, she said, adding that she has so many memories of family and repeat customers coming through the doors. She even waited tables there at the same time as the man who would become her husband, she said.

The hotel portion of Bumbleberry Inn, Springdale, Utah, Nov. 19, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Stark, St. George News

“We were devastated,” Clark said of watching with her husband and brothers as the fire decimated not only their livelihood but so much personal history. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster.”

That said, when news of the fire started to spread through the Southern Utah community and then into the global community through social media, Both Smith and Clark said they were flooded with phone calls and email messages from people.

From couples who had spent their honeymoons or anniversaries at the inn to neighbors who have brought meals and donated money, or families who had enjoyed a slice of famous bumbleberry pie, they said it has been amazing to see the outpouring of support who have made Bumbleberry Inn part of their lives and memories.

“It’s definitely been a silver lining,” Clark said.

Smith said a lot of people have asked if they are going to rebuild. For him and his family, he said, it isn’t a question of if, but how fast.

On hope for the future

“I don’t think there’s anybody more anxious to reopen than our family,” Smith said.

Though he acknowledged the hardships, particularly for his daughter whose livelihood is completely gone and for the loss of the restaurant, Smith looked toward the future with a lot of hope for what rebuilding can and will look like.

A vintage postcard from Springdale, Utah shows Grandma’s Kitchen, Springdale, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Trisha Clark, St. George News

“It’s a blank piece of paper,” Smith said. “We are excited for what it can be.”

There are currently no set architectural plans, but Smith said they plan to expand the bakery and add an enhanced theater with additional offerings such as space for family and corporate events and even dinner theaters.

Smith is also working with Moore to rebuild Porter’s Smokehouse & Grill, which will likely include space for outdoor dining, he said.

And while the building will be new, Smith said that no matter what it looks like, it will be built with the long history of Bumbleberry Inn and the memories built inside, in mind.

“Everybody has a piece of Bumbleberry,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of memories.”

Clark echoed her father’s sentiments, saying that while the building will look different, it will have nods to the past that made the inn more than just another tourist stop.

“The family atmosphere will be the same,” Clark said.

On the pie

One thing that is for certain, both Smith and Clark said, is that the pie will be the same.

“That’s who we are is the pie,” Smith said.

The famous recipe began in what was once called Grandma’s Kitchen, Clark said. Today it is known throughout the world by tourists who have stopped on their way to Zion and tried to figure out just what a bumbleberry is.

An anecdote on the Bumbleberry Inn’s website describes a bumbleberry like this:

According to Grandpa, bumbleberries are burple and binkel berries that grow on giggle bushes, so named because they giggle when the berries ripen and the bush begins to quake, and at the precise moment that they ripen, they giggle.

If you were to eat a berry while it was giggling, you would spend the rest of your life giggling!

For Smith, the recipe is akin to Kentucky Fried Chicken’s secret herbs and spices; it is what makes the inn so special for both his family and their valued guests.

Grandpa Smith eating a bumbleberry pie, Springdale, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Trisha Clark, St. George News

“We appreciate everybody that eats bumbleberry pie and jams and jellies and syrups,” Smith said.

The original recipe is locked away in a safe and doesn’t change, Smith said, adding that it is a very special process to make it just right.

“You have to listen to the mixer and you have to listen to the dough. There’s some special things so that it stays the way we want it to be,” Smith said.

To that end, Smith said they will not be selling pies or any of the other bumbleberry products until they can do it right.

“I don’t want to sell something that almost tastes like a bumbleberry pie,” he said.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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