A popular eatery was badly damaged by a two-alarm fire Saturday night in Lake Elsinore.
The fire broke out shortly before 10:30 p.m. Satuday night at Annie’s Cafe in the 32200 block of Mission Trail.
According to Jody Hagemann with the Riverside County Fire Department, the first arriving fire engine discovered flames and black smoke coming from the restaurant. Scanner chatter indicated that firefighters were concerned about the threat to surrounding businesses and immediately requested a second alarm response.
It took a total of 42 firefighters about 30 minutes to extinguish the fire, Hagemann said in a news release.
Ten fire engines and two ladder trucks responded to the incident, along with two overhead chief officers and a breathing support unit that supplies fresh air bottles to firefighters.
The southbound lanes of Mission Trail were closed during the fire as emergency vehicles blocked the roadway.
Several officers with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department / Lake Elsinore Police Department were at the scene directing traffic around the incident.
The restaurant has been in business for nearly 27 years, according to current owner Jan Vyse. She and her husband Kevin purchased the restaurant on Oct. 27, 2000, just days before the previous owners were planning to close it down.
They responded to the scene immediately after receiving a phone call from the property manager stating the building was on fire, she said.
Vyse wiped away tears as she described her passion for the restaurant.
“We put our life, blood, sweat and tears into this place,” she said, adding that she and her husband moved to Lake Elsinore from England to purchase and operate the restaurant.
Several regular customers of the restaurant gathered in the parking lot and watched in disbelief as the fire burned.
“They have all become like family,” Vyse said when asked of the customers. “Nobody is a stranger … some of our customers come in three times a day … they’ll come in early in the morning for their breakfast, they’ll come in at 11 a.m. for lunch and they’ll come in at about 10 minutes til 3 p.m. for dinner,” she said.
The restaurant is situated at the end of an outlying building that is part of a large commercial strip mall near the Diamond Stadium on Lake Elsinore’s south side.
Renovations to the strip mall began about three weeks ago and were supposed to be completed by the end of February, Vyse said.
She expressed frustration about the process thus far, and was concerned that the construction may have contributed to the blaze.
The building was not being worked on at the time of the fire, but fire officials were investigating if the fire originated where a neon sign had recently been removed from the exterior of the building, Vyes said.
The cause of the fire was under investigation, Hagemann said in the news release.
Chain link fences went up around the building when the renovations began, immediately prompting the slowest business the restaurant has seen in over 7 years, Vyes said.
“People thought we were being demolished,” she said, adding that business picked back up after a friend produced banners and hung them on the fences.
Vyes and her husband walked the interior of the restaurant with Riverside County Fire Department officials after the fire was extinguished. She emerged from the building several minutes later in tears and could be seen hugging people gathered at the scene.
Most of the fire damage was contained to a corner of the building near an employee restroom and storage area, Vyes said.
There were several holes in the roof, and a large section of the ceiling hung down. Many glass items were also broken around the dining area, she said.
Vyes was unsure when the restaurant would reopen for business, but insisted that it would be as soon as possible. Shortly after the fire, she had not yet spoken with fire officials about the next steps and whether or not the business would be displaced, she said.
When asked if she wanted to pass anything along to her customers, Vyes said: “Just bear with us guys, we will get you fed food as soon as possible.-