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Fire at Chez Panisse: The Restaurant 'Will Likely Be Closed For Some Time'

Photo: HoustonKGO/Twitter

Once again in its 40-year history, Alice Waters' famed Chez Panisse restaurant was ablaze this morning in Berkeley, California. Firefighters remain at the scene and Twitter is alight with reports from journalists on the ground who are just now getting looks inside the restaurant. KTVU's Claudine Wong filed a report at the station's 5:30 a.m. hour in which she reports that the restaurant "will likely be closed for some time," but the damage was not as extensive as had originally be feared earlier this morning.

Footage of the Chez Panisse scene seems grim, but Wong explains that it "looks more dramatic because you're looking at exterior and subfloor." The kitchen, she says, is in the back of the restaurant and, thankfully, the interior of the restaurant "survived pretty well" thanks to the restaurant's sprinkler system. There are some photographs hitting Twitter of charred interiors, but Kristen Sze of ABC News reports that it was a small front part of the restaurant that burned and the main dining room is okay.

So far, it doesn't seem that the firefighters have pinpointed a cause, though a manager tells KTVU that no one was in the restaurant at the time. ABC7's Kira Klapper hears that the fire "likely started in front right corner of restaurant, in a sub-floor area." The first was first reported at 3:04 a.m. Battalion Chief Bill Kehoe tells the news station that the fire stopped his heart upon arrival, explaining, "You could see the front of the building like a wall of flame that was covering the first floor and lapping up the roof on the way to the second floor."

Chez Panisse has a history with fire. On March 7, 1982, the restaurant suffered significant damage that shuttered the cafe for a couple of weeks and forced a remodel of the restaurant — resulting in the open kitchen for which it is now well known. As Waters stated in the 2008 book Alice Waters and Chez Panisse by Thomas McNamee, "I had always wanted to be connected, cooking and serving the customer in one room. So when that wall went down in the fire, I just said, 'Let it be.' Sometimes I almost thought I started the fire purposefully."

UPDATE 3/8 9:43 a.m: Alice Waters has arrived on the scene to check things out. Firefighters tell NBC Bay Area that "it looks suspicious: Little fires were set around the building, where the facade was severely damaged."

UPDATE 3/8 10:33 a.m: Alice Waters, as pictured above, has been talking to press since her arrival on the scene, telling KTVU's Sal Castaneda that Chez Panisse can be rebuilt and that "We are not going anywhere."

UPDATE 3/8 11:15 a.m: Here is video of Alice Waters telling the press that, "It's really important that we rebuild."

UPDATE 3/8 11:30 a.m: Alice Waters speaks to the New York Times. She said there was no structural damage to the restaurant, but "[t]he very beautiful facade of the restaurant is gone... The fire started under the front porch and it just burned the whole front porch off... The beautiful woodwork is gone." Waters hopes to open the upstairs cafe within "a week," but it's unclear when the main restaurant downstairs will open. "I don't know how we could really make it right for quite some time," said Waters.

UPDATE 3/8 1:15 p.m: Alice Waters tweets that she hopes "to reopen the Cafe next weekend."

UPDATE 3/8 1:20 p.m: Looks like this fire might actually have been accidental. Berkeleyside talks to Berkeley Fire Department Interim Deputy Chief Avery Webb, who walks back earlier rumors of arson. The fire, he says, "probably had an electrical cause."

UPDATE 3/8 3:25 p.m: ABC 7 reports that Chez Panisse has canceled all reservations through March 23. This fire strangely occurred 31 years and one day after the last Chez Panisse fire. Here's the news report:

· Fire Damages Chez Panisse Restaurant In Berkeley [ABC 7]
· KTVU Live News [KTVU]
· All Chez Panisse Coverage on Eater [-E-]

Chez Panisse

1517 Shattuck Ave Berkeley, CA 94709