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 was undetermined.
Battalion 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. Officials did not have a dollar amount for the damage caused but said it will be months before the restaurant is able to operate again.
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 Wednesday.
Justice, who said he has patronized both the restaurant and bakery, 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 ¿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 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."