Fire to close iconic Rod & Reel Pier for at least 2 months

rdymond@bradenton.comOctober 1, 2013 

ANNA MARIA -- Cheryl Antonelli, who lives near Boston, turned on her computer Monday morning to watch a live feed of her vacationing daughter, Tracy, and her family going to breakfast at the Rod & Reel Restaurant and Pier in Anna Maria.

Antonelli was not prepared for what she saw via the restaurant's camera.

White smoke was billowing from the restaurant roof, signs of the fire that likely has shut down the iconic restaurant for two months or more, said West Manatee Fire Rescue Inspector Keith Miller.

"My mom called us from Boston before we even reached the restaurant from our rental on Holmes Beach and told us the Rod & Reel Pier was on fire," said Tracy Antonelli, who is visiting Anna Maria Island with Patrick Mooty and the couple's two daughters, Emmie,

3, and Rosie, 2. "She saw it happen. She knew it before we did."

The 8:33 a.m. one-alarm fire sent one West Manatee Fire Rescue fire truck, three engines, one battalion and Battalion Chief Rick Losek to the restaurant on North Shore Drive.

It had opened for breakfast at 8 a.m. Monday and was already packed with customers and fishermen on the pier.

The historic Rod & Reel Pier was built in 1947, a bunch of boards strung together jutting out over Tampa Bay with a quaint bar, bait shop and restaurant at the tip.

The 300-foot pier is said to be one of only several privately owned piers in Florida, and seems to attract those accomplished in the much-ignored art of relaxing with a fishing rod. The largest fish ever taken was probably a 17-foot, 1,300-pound shark, said Ted Pasquantonio, a Rod & Reel Pier amateur historian.

Before firefighters arrived, Manatee County Sheriff's Office Deputy Gary Sellitto, already patrolling at the restaurant, jumped into action.

"The officer on scene made sure everyone got out," Miller said. "He deserves some credit."

The cause of the fire, which did an estimated $100,000 damage, is still under investigation. Miller said it appears to have been an electrical fire that started between the walls of the upstairs and downstairs kitchens.

"There was smoke showing from the right side of the building, in the back or northeastern corner," Miller said. "We had to cut the walls open. For them to reopen will require a lot of work."

The owner of the Rod & Reel Pier lives in Germany, but the facility is run daily by Dave Cochran, who was on the scene within minutes of the fire.

"We believe it was electrical," Cochran said. "The fire inspector told me there was no open flames on the outside. Everything was between the walls. We will have to close for a while."

Dave Bouchard, who lives across the street from the pier in a big yellow house, was jolted from sleep at 8:30 a.m. when his 14-year-old son, Will, yelled out, "Dad, there's smoke coming from the pier."

"I ran over and saw smoke billowing," Bouchard said.

The restaurant staff at the time of the fire included three cooks, two prep workers and two servers, Cochran said.

Tracy Antonelli comes to Anna Maria Island every September or October for vacation, and her family eats nearly every dinner and breakfast at Rod & Reel Pier.

"We have eaten here every night," Antonelli said. "In fact, we were the last ones to leave Sunday night. We're super-bummed. Even our 3-year old said, 'Momma, where will we eat now?'"

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.

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