"It looks pretty toasted to me. We have a lot of water damage in the basement, which sometimes is worse than the fire. I am not sure if we can salvage kitchen equipment. That alone is about $800, 000."
Dirk Lenthe of Fargo, Green Mill owner
Smoke continued to come from the Green Mill restaurant Saturday, as firefighters searched for hot pockets and suspicious areas.
The Green Mill restaurant is located on South Columbia Road in Grand Forks.
The cause of the fire, which started at about 10:50 p.m. Friday, is unknown, said Grand Forks Fire Marshall Tom Geatz.
"We are targeting the investigation on the southeast corner of the attic area, where we found most of the damage," said Geatz adding that he could not confirm whether or not the fire was caused by an electrical malfunction as reported by eyewitnesses.
"We don't know yet; we have a lot of debris to look through," he said.
Restaurant owner Dirk Lenthe, of Fargo, who performed an aerial inspection of the property from a fire truck with Geatz on Saturday, said the fire started in the attic over the kitchen area.
"I am not sure what happened, but it might have been a natural gas line that separated for some reason," Lenthe said.
About 75 people were inside the restaurant when the fire broke out, restaurant workers said.
"We had a full house," Lenthe said. "Employees did a great job at getting people out."
No injuries were reported, said Donnie Bryant Sr., master police officer with the special enforcement team of the Grand Forks Police Department.
$2 million damage
Insurance adjusters will evaluate the property Monday to determine the extent of the damage. Unofficial appraisals from the fire department and the police indicate that the restaurant, which opened in 1999, could be declared a total loss.
"It looks pretty toasted to me," Lenthe said. "We have a lot of water damage in the basement, which sometimes is worse than the fire. I am not sure if we can salvage kitchen equipment. That alone is about $800,000."
If declared a total loss, the final bill could add up to $2 million, Lenthe said.
Lenthe, who owns three other Green Mill franchises in Fargo, Bismarck and Bemidji, said that he's "definitely reopening" in Grand Forks.
Restaurant employees said they were shaken by the incident, especially because they are not sure what is going to happen to their jobs.
"I don't know," said Sindy Keller, Green Mill controller, shrugging her shoulders as she watched firefighters come in and out of the building. "We have a meeting on Monday."
Some employees might be covered by company policy, Lenthe said. Others might be temporarily relocated to the remaining three franchises.
"They are good employees, and we want to keep them, but they can't survive on thin air," Lenthe said.