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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Through the kitchen window a fire investigater checks the area of the burned-out kitchen of the Waterfront Restaurant following the early morning fire Friday. Islander Photos: Bonner Joy

A firefighter applies water under the eaves near the kitchen of the Waterfront restaurant where smoke and flames were still showing shortly after 6 a.m. Islander Photos: Bonner Joy

Fire closes historic Waterfront restaurant in Anna Maria

A pre-dawn fire Thursday morning, March 18, at the historic Waterfront Restaurant in Anna Maria has closed the facility indefinitely, co-owner Leah Suzor said.

The first unit of the West Manatee Fire and Rescue District reached the building at 5:07 a.m., while the second unit from the Cortez station arrived at 5:15 p.m.

Tony Frisco, an Anna Maria resident who was fishing on the city pier at that time, saw the blaze close to 5 a.m. and called 911. The restaurant is located at 111 S. Bay Blvd. across the street from the pier.

Firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze before flames engulfed the entire building, but the three firefighters on the first unit to arrive had to wait eight minutes for the second unit coming from Cortez Road before entering the structure. The fire gutted the kitchen and spread through portions of the roof.

The fire appeared to start in the kitchen and moved upward through the roof, but the cause and origin are still under investigation, WMFR Capt. Ernie Cave said.

No one was injured in the fire and damage was estimated at between $75,000 and $100,000, he added.

Suzor, who owns the restaurant with husband John and other family members, said the restaurant closed normally around 12:20 a.m. that morning.

She said she was waiting for insurance investigators to estimate the cost of repairs to the building, which was originally built in 1922.

"We fully intend to rebuild, but we won't know anything until the insurance people complete their estimate for repairs, " she said. "We'll rebuild if the insurance people say we can. A lot will depend on whether or not the building needs a new roof."

John Suzor said if the restaurant can be rebuilt, it will have the same look as before the fire.

"We're very interested in preserving the historical character and look of the building," he said. "Obviously, we have to wait for the insurance people, but our plan is to rebuild exactly the way it was before the fire."

Leah Suzor said she was concerned about the loyal customers and staff of about 30 people, who must now look for another job.

The fire could not have come at a worse time for the business or staff. The restaurant was becoming very popular in the two years it's been owned by the Suzors.

"Of all the months for this to happen. March has been just tremendous for us, the best since we opened," she signed. "We'll just have to wait and see what happens and do the best we can."

Cave said that the three firefighters on the first unit that arrived at 5:07 a.m. had to fight a defensive fire for eight minutes and were prevented from entering the building by the "two-in, two-out" rule until the second unit from the WMFR Cortez Road station arrived eight minutes later. Had there been enough firefighters to enter the building been on the first truck, there likely would have been less interior damage, he observed.

A proposal by the WMFR district board to increase the district's annual budget by about $1.5 million through an ad valorem tax and add 12 firefighters to meet the "two-in, two-out" rule was defeated by 128 votes in the district in early March.

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