Fire Badly Damages Landmark Calif. Bakery, Restaurant

May 8, 2013
Fire caused heavy damage to Merritt Bakery and Restaurant in Oakland on Wednesday morning.

May 08--OAKLAND -- The future of the landmark Merritt Bakery and Restaurant, which has been serving generations of customers for decades, is now in doubt after a fire early Wednesday damaged the kitchen area and other parts of the building.

The one-alarm blaze at the business at 203 East 18th Street across from Lake Merritt, erupted about 2:35 a.m. and was controlled in about 45 minutes by fire crews. Officials said the cause has not been determined yet.

Batallion Fire Chief Coy Justice said the fire started in a rear ground floor storage area and spread to the second floor where offices were. The kitchen did suffer some damage mostly from falling debris and smoke, he said.

No injuries were reported it's not yet known what the damage estimate will be, officials said. Fire inspectors were expected back at the site later Wednesday.

A half-dozen employees were milling about Wednesday morning, waiting to go to work at the bakery, which opens about 7 a.m. A man who said he represented the owner, but would not give his name, said he had no idea when it would reopen.

The owners could not be reached.

Justice, who said he has patronized both the restaurant and bakery before, said the kitchen "was in bad shape and even in the best case scenario" with getting permits, doing the repairs and getting necessary approvals it would be months before any reopening.

The restaurant seating area and front of the bakery where customers could buy pastries, cookies and other sweets and order cakes for any occasion, were apparently unscathed by the fire.

The establishment sustained $150,000 in damages in an electrical related fire in February 2006 caused but later reopened.

The business opened Feb. 14, 1952 and continues to be patronized by diners and customers from all over the Bay Area.

One of those longtime customers, Lee Coe, who lives a few blocks away was outside taking pictures and talked about how much the restaurant meant to her over the years.

She said she had been going to the restaurant since the 1960s when it was open 24 hours a day and she would come there after her shift as a bartender ended.

"It's just really sad," Coe said. "I feel really badly for the people who work here. Some of them have worked there for years.

"I don't know if it's a landmark, but it should be. It's a great place to meet people."

Coe said she was aware of financial problems the business had been having because of the economy and although she hopes it will reopen, said "I don't know if it will come back or not. Even if they did bring something back, I don't know if it would be the same."

Copyright 2013 - The Oakland Tribune

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