Santa Rosa restaurant reopens Thursday after being destroyed in October 2017 Tubbs fire

For many in Santa Rosa, the re-opening of Willi's Wine Bar Thursday was like an old friend returning home.

"It's a business that has heart. Heart for its customers. Heart for the community," said customer Deirdre Bates.

The original Willi's, about ten minutes from the new location, is among the approximately 3,000 buildings destroyed by the Tubbs Fire in October 2017.

A once popular and award-winning restaurant now sits empty and overgrown with weeds.

Owners Mark and Teri Stark say they wanted to keep the same friendly vibe of the old restaurant but in a new location.

Now, 19 months after the devastation, a new beginning.

"The line out the door of regulars that used to frequent Willi's was pretty inspiring," said owner Mark Stark.

The re-opening of Willi's is more than merely a restaurant returning. It is also serving as a symbol of recovery in Santa Rosa, a sign of normalcy for a community still finding its way back from catastrophe.

"It's a sign that Santa Rosa is continually rebuilding, Sonoma County is rebuilding, wine country is rebuilding. And we are not stopping," said Raymond Rolander of Cloverdale.

"This is a big deal. This is a big deal," said Jill Bates.

The re-opening of the restaurant, with its menu of small plates and large wine list was much anticipated. And many say they are glad the owners are back.

They did a lot for displaced people after the fire.

The owners were able to bring back about three-quarters of the original staff.

This felt like a reunion for them too.

"To have everyone under the same roof working together and seeing those dishes coming out of the kitchen. It's pretty awesome," said owner Teri Stark.

Signs of what Santa Rosa was like before the fire are slowly emerging "we can get back to what we are all good at up here. Eating, drinking and having a good time," said Mark Stark.