Less than 48 hours before it was slated to open its outdoor seating area overlooking fields of apple orchards and the Shawangunk mountain range, an allegedly drunk driver smashed into the the Gunk Haus Restaurant in Highland last night, causing a fire that caused extensive damage to the German restaurant.
According to Highland Police Chief James Janso, William Judge, 47 of Lloyd, was behind the wheel of a 2019 Subaru heading south on South Street when he crashed his vehicle through the front of the Gunk Haus at approximately 9:40 p.m. on Sunday, June 7. Judge was charged with driving while intoxicated following the crash.
“The restaurant was closed at the time of the accident,” said the chief, and Judge was the sole occupant of the vehicle. He was transported to Vassar Hospital by the New Paltz Rescue Squad for facial and hand injuries.
Neighbor Candace McCutcheon heard the accident and ran outside to see what had happened. “We have a lot of car accidents around here because the streets are so narrow and the intersection is tight,” she said. “But when we saw that a car had crashed into the restaurant, my dad ran towards it and called 911. Thankfully, no one was working and the owners and their two dogs were able to get out in time.”
McCutcheon, who has celebrated many of her own milestones at the restaurant as well as family celebrations, said that the owners, Dirk Schalle and Elizabeth Steckel, “had been so excited to finally be able to open their outdoor seating area this Tuesday [as part of the Hudson Valley region’s Phase 2 business reopening plan], because they’ve been putting so much work and investment into it. They added a new deck with an open-air roof over part of it for shade and shelter. They’ve been doing a ton of landscaping work. I pass by there every day on my way to Woodland Pond where I work and have been so excited for them to reopen. Then this happens.” The couple had just celebrated their tenth year of owning and operating the German restaurant, which had previously been known as the Hollywood Bar.
A message on the restaurant’s website reads:
The Gunk Haus is currently closed.
On June 7th, after closing, a vehicle struck the building and caused considerable damage. We will restore the restaurant and reopen as soon as we reasonably can. We thank you for your ongoing support and patience while we rebuild, and look forward to welcoming you back in the near future.
McCutcheon has started a GoFundMe campaign to help the couple and show community support for them and within less than 12 hours, more than $10,000 had been raised. “Not only did they suffer damage to their restaurant, but that’s also their home,” said McCutcheon. “I just wanted to let them know how much we care about them and appreciate them and are here for them.
“Any amount helps, even if it’s $1,” said McCutcheon. “As we know, local businesses and restaurants have been hit so hard and then this happens. It’s devastating.”