Before Thursday, pictures of delectable dishes covered the windows of Restaurante La Rancherita to entice customers over a year, seven days a week from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.
On Friday, they concealed the wet, charred remains of Julio Masias’ Mexican food restaurant, which caught fire Thursday afternoon.
“It’s still sinking in,” Masias said Friday morning.
A 911 call came in at 5:04 p.m. Thursday reporting the fire. The blaze towered high above the restaurant and smoke filtered into the streets. Masias’ four employees, who are now without a job, were the first to see smoke and fire. No one was reported injured.
“They figured the best thing to do was to walk outside,” he said of his employees’ reactions.
The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations said the fire appears to be accidental. Jon Moore, communication coordinator with the state office, said it looked like a malfunction with the heating, ventilation and air conditioning unit located in the upper ceiling area.
The estimated damage is between $200,000 and $250,000, according to Moore.
Reviews on its Facebook page professed the restaurant to serve authentic dishes and tacos that went for $1 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“It was like going to Mexico,” one reviewer wrote.
Around 10:30 a.m. Friday, Masias met with a public adjuster, the operations manager who oversees the KFC franchises in the area — as Masias’ restaurant used to be a KFC — and the building’s owner to review the damage.
While the business was young, he said it was just starting to pick up. Now, chunks of burned insulation were scattered across the parking lot and the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. The greatest part of the damage was a sizable hole in the rear part of the roof over the kitchen where the fire is thought to have started.
But in the meantime, he has two other businesses to attend to: a bakery and a convenience store.