Lufkin restaurant owner decides to close Ray's West for good in wake of fire

(Source: Shelia Featherson Durham)
(Source: Shelia Featherson Durham)

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - After some soul-searching, the owner of Ray's Drive-In West has decided the restaurant will remain closed for good in the wake of a fire that damaged the building on July 16.

Lawana Ray, the owner of Ray's Drive-In West on the loop and the original Ray's on Timberland Drive said that her decision had to do with getting the building up to codes. Ray's Drive-In was grandfathered in regard to Lufkin's building codes.

"The building was built in '84, and there were a lot of upgrades and codes that were going to have to be met that your insurance doesn't cover," Ray said.

The restaurant owner said when Ray's West caught on fire, it was like seeing one of her children get hurt. As result, it made the decision to close Ray's West a difficult one.

"Really doing some soul searching," Ray said. "I really came to the decision I wasn't going to open it. I really decided that life is too short and it is time to slow down."

Ray said she understands that some people may be disappointed that Ray's West will be closed for good. However, she said that for years the business thrived at one location.

"It doesn't matter which way you drive it; you are only three miles from that hamburger you had at West," Ray said.

The Ray's name has become an East Texas tradition since the first burger was served in 1959, and Lawana hopes people will never forget Ray's West.

"We've had so many good times over there," Ray said. "We have had so many children's birthdays and so many good things that came out of that restaurant, so I think Ray's West will be in the back of everybody's mind."

When Lufkin fire crews arrived on the scene, flames were coming from the roof of the building. Although an unknown number of employees and customers were in the restaurant at the time of the fire, no one was injured in the blaze.

When Lufkin fire marshals investigated the cause of the fire, they determined that it was started by a carelessly discarded cigarette.

"This is another example of how important it is to completely extinguish all smoking materials when finished with them," Capt. Ozzie Jarman of the Lufkin Fire Department said in a previous East Texas News story. "The fire is ruled unintentional as result of a carelessly discarded cigarette."

Jarman explained the fire started at the rear of Ray's Drive-In West in a lean-to shed attached to the main building. He said someone threw away a cigarette butt that fell in or on a stack of cardboard boxes.

"The cardboard ignited and spread up the fence to the roof. There was not any fire damage to the interior of the structure," Jarman said. "Only smoke damage to the inside. There was some minor fire damage to the roof of the building just above where the lean to was attached."

Ray's Drive-In has been serving up hamburgers in Lufkin for more than 50 years and in 1995 Lawana and her husband Jerry bought the burger joints from the family and expanded.

"We bought this one in 1996 and this was my baby," said Ray. "I worked it 16 hours a day for the first 3 years. It's kind of special to me and it's a little, it's like having your baby hurt."

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