Santa Rosa’s Sweet T’s Will Rise Again After Burning in Tubbs Fire

The popular barbecue restaurant is set to return this summer.

Four months ago, Dennis Tussey was sifting through the ashes of his Fountaingrove restaurant, Sweet T’s in search of whatever he and his wife Anne could salvage—a few dishes, some patio furniture, and a $25,000 barbecue smoker they recently purchased. Today, he stands in front of an empty Windsor restaurant space planning the popular barbecue restaurant’s return this summer.

“We have such a faithful following,” says Tussey, misting up a bit, “We didn’t realize until after the fire, but we can go anywhere and people want to talk to us about the restaurant,” he said. “It never entered our minds that we were done. Our only thought was that we needed to come back. We want to put our employees back to work.”

Dennis Tussey sits outside the Windsor location for the new Sweet T’s. Heather Irwin/PD

And that’s why the couple set to work almost immediately on finding a new location for Sweet T’s, despite the trauma of losing so much on the night of October 8. The new restaurant will be at the former Denny’s at 9098 Brooks Road South in Windsor. 

The Tussey’s fire story started in the early hours of the morning as Ann was closing up the restaurant. She smelled smoke but passed it off as fireplaces possibly being lighted on the windy night–until a fire truck went by the restaurant, heading up Fountaingrove Parkway. Curious, she followed, seeing some smoke but thinking maybe it was a house fire. Like most folks, she didn’t know that fire was already ravaging the hillsides to the east. Tussey went home, and at 2 a.m. the landlord of the building called to inform them that sprinkler alarms had gone off in the restaurant. “We knew something was very wrong,” Dennis said. Their beloved pitmaster, George Ah Chin, who lived nearby, tried to reach the restaurant and saw the entire area ablaze. “We knew it was gone,” Tussey said.

“Of course I feel much more sympathy for the folks who lost homes,” Tussey said. “I had a bed to go home to. But six years of intense effort just went up in smoke.”

In the days after the fire, Tussey invited his staff to home to regroup, giving them 60 days severance pay and helping them find new jobs. They’ve worked with the kitchen staff to rewrite the many recipes for Sweet T’s signature Southern dishes — from grits to ribs — and have a staff of 12 working on the reopening of the restaurant.

Quitting just wasn’t an option. “If you don’t like the restaurant businesses, it’s a tough business to be in. We had grown that place by word of mouth, and we were on solid footing, with between 400 and 600 guests per day,” he said. He equates it to a long-running Broadway show, where there’s always a new audience, always more expectation. “You have to be as good or better than you were yesterday.”

The menu will be mostly the same, though the couple is adding a wood-fired grill to their barbecue lineup. And there will be plenty more parking in the shopping center — something that was always a challenge at their former location. Otherwise, expect the Southern hospitality and solid ‘que Sweet T’s was known for.

“It will be good to see all of our old friends again,” said Tussey.


49 thoughts on “Santa Rosa’s Sweet T’s Will Rise Again After Burning in Tubbs Fire

  1. My name is Kira and I live close to the new location in Windsor. Our house in Fountaingrove also burned down in the October wildfires. I would love to get an employment application for your new restaurant. Can you please let me know who I might be able to talk to? Thank you very much.

  2. I feel very fortunate to have eaten at the original location twice, Once inside, and once on the beautiful patio. The food was superb, and the the service was excellent. I am so glad they are rebuilding. Can’t wait to try the new place !!! Is there any kind of timeline available ?? Anyone who knows anything, please reply, Thanks. Love and miss you Sweet T’s !!!

  3. I’m so happy to hear that Sweet T’s is opening again! Ironic coincidence, I was cleaning out an old tote bag and found a Sweet T’s menu from the last October day we were there, plus receipt! 🙂

  4. Visited sweet t’s many times lived up the FG hill. We also find Windsor a great place for dining. Sweet t’s will fit right in with the others without affecting others business. Good solid food, service and atmosphere is a winner for all restaurants who focus on the dining experience. Room for everyone , Windsor is the winner as well as all of us who enjoyed sweet t’s. So happy their coming back.

  5. Welcome to Windsor my home and your new home.
    Sweet T’s have been out place for birthdays and other
    special events.


    1. At least they are trying to rebuild & give their employees a job back!! The faithful followers like me will be there to support them NO MATTER where they go!! Be a little more sympathetic to the situation Tony!

    2. I can’t wait for them to re-open. We used to go there all the time. Sometimes even getting their chicken to takeout for dinner.

      And I love Windsor, that’s a good choice to rebuild. I live in the Russian River area, & we always enjoy going to Windsor, such a beautiful little town. Can’t wait to hear when the opening is.

  7. Can’t wait for them to re-open. My parents that live out of town told all there friends and they all come to vacation here and eat at Sweet Tea’s!!! So Happy!!!

  8. And…………they have one of best bar tenders in town and hopefully she will be back when they open and I will make sure that I will drive the 3 hour trip just to attend this great restaurant and the wonderful staff. Hi Jenna!!!

  9. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh, so sad every time we drive past there and see all that devastation in the neighborhood. Love the comment from Fire Station 5!! We too had hoped that they’d rebuild there. Maybe they will have a second one there some day. We can dream:-)

  10. I didn’t see in the article when they are expecting to be opening the Windsor location. Anyone know their predicted opening date?

    1. Do we have a update as to a date when Sweet T’s will reopen in the new Windsor location?

  11. YAY! I just wish they were going to reopen nearer to me as I live between Rincon Valley and Sonoma, so Windsor is a bit of a drive…however, it is worth it! Their fried brussels sprouts are the BEST, so I hope they will again be on their menu. Also, some of the BEST desserts in town. Can’t wait for the re-opening!

  12. VERY HAPPY to hear of the reincarnation. Looking forward to enjoying BEST CHICKEN LIVERS in the world! Hopefully it will be a larger space making it a little easier to make reservations without time restrictions. Wish you could have found location in SR as we are severely lacking in BBQ.

  13. Very happy to hear they are coming back. Very disappointed to hear that another Santa Rosa business is moving to Windsor. Downtown SR or Railroad Square would have benefitted greatly from Sweet T’s presence.

  14. Dennis, Anne and the BBQ Master, George, always took exceptional care of the staff at the local Fire Station 5 prior to the fires. They did it because they are good people, that knew that other good people were standing at the ready on holidays, weekends, nights,… always. They provided the crew of Station 5 with a beautiful gift of brisket, pork butt and chicken on New Years day 2016. Unfortunately, both Fire Station 5 and Sweet T’s were lost the same night, to the Tubbs fire. Life safety and evacuation took immediate priority and some properties were lost. Any loss feels like a failure. To you, your generosity isn’t forgotten. Thank you again.

  15. So, that’s pretty near Red Bee BBQ. Like in line of sight, pretty much. Wonder how Red Bee feels about it? Wonder why they chose Windsor when it is a small-ish town and there are already at least 4 other places that serve BBQ in Windsor (Red Bee, Keith’s, Jaded Toad and Kin)? I have a feeling the new Russian River Brew Pub will see the benefits of BBQ at their new spot, too, at some point. I haven’t even been to Red Bee yet and I just got sad that they will have competition in such close proximity. I will have to stop by Red Bee tonight for dinner. I also noticed that where the old Sweet T’s was was so popular, even during the week it was hard to find parking. Why not rebuild/revitalize in the area that it came from and rebuild in a community that obviously loved it?

    Just wondering…

    1. Doesn’t sound like you’ve eaten at Sweet T’s.. It doesn’t matter where they go? Wherever they go, we will follow . If you’ve tasted their food, you’d do the same??

    2. I actually tried to eat at Sweet T’s once over this past summer, but the parking situation was so horrendous that I turned around. My moms had been there several times and they loved it. I was looking forward to checking it out. Just never got the chance.

      My original comment had nothing to do with how good their food is, actually. It had to do with them choosing to relocate to a smaller population area that already has 4 other BBQ restaurants/catering and not relocating back to the original neighborhood which might benefit emotionally and economically from Sweet T’s returning and rebuilding in that devastated area. Because of it’s previous quality and popularity. I have a feeling the Sweet T’s loyalists are just going to make it hard for the other businesses to compete. If they are as good as everyone says, which, again, I am not arguing, I think there is a possibility that one of those other BBQ places will lose out and likely have to close. And the one that is a near-literal stone’s throw form the new Sweet T’s is Red Bee. I just feel sad for the people that might have to lose their business that they work hard for and lose their jobs. But I guess that is what you deal with in the kind of economy/market we have. I hope that they both get to survive and thrive right next to each other and prove the market wrong.

    3. Not even close in terms of food quality, service, or target market. Red Bee is a limited menu, takeout place for a quick bite at a reasonable price and for families to pick up and eat at home. Sweet T’s is a higher-quality, sit down dining establishment with table service (assuming with a full bar) which focuses on real Southern cooking with a more extensive menu. The real competition will be for customers who go to Lot 88 across the road which has a similar customer profile.

    4. That’s like comparing Chiptole to Los Tres Chiles, Domino’s to Gio’s Pizza, McDonald’s to Superburger, Olive Garden to Ca’Bianca…. there is no comparison! Sweet T’s is Southern BBQ (I was raised on southern cooking) Red Bee’s is “Asian” BBQ there is a big difference! I could go on about the difference but you can get the gist of it.

    5. Good points, Pendolino, Olivia and Rachel. I also am hopeful that things will work out and each of the nearby restaurants will thrive by offering something slightly different than the others. I didn’t even think about Lot 88 being more similar as far as clientele and atmosphere.

  16. This is the best news EVER!! We have so missed you Dennis, Anne and staff. My Virginia family will be so happy to know you will be back. Have missed the great food, service and friends. Welcome Back!!

  17. Hurry, hurry! Oh how I miss my fried chicken, smashed potatoes, biscuits, fried green tomatoes, hush puppies, creamed corn AND those fabulous martinis.

  18. Like everyone else – can’t WAIT! Only down side, with the additional parking, reservations might become a necessity. I hope so. That means they’ll be around for a long time!

  19. Besides the food and service I loved the outdoor space. So relaxing. Hope your new home will have that luxuary.

  20. This is the best news!! We miss you and are thrilled you found a new spot! Can we make reservations now for opening night? 🙂

  21. So happy to hear you will be reopening, but really wish it was in another Santa Rosa location. Thanks for the good news!

  22. Happy for the owners and customers. Will certainly head to Windsor to enjoy the food.

    A side note, it was far from “cold” the evening of October 8th; that was half the problem, along with the wind. I recall checking the temperature at 915p in Bennett Valley; it was 74 degrees.

  23. We are very excited to hear this news!! Have missed your restaurant and so glad you didn’t give up! Love your menu esp the smoked chicken cobb salad, ribs, brisket, corn-okra-tomato sauté, coleslaw, and of course the delicious biscuits!!! Welcome to Windsor!

  24. I could’ve swore they had a,”henny penny” ,chicken frier…still think they did…and hope they still do

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