WALNUT GROVE, Calif. — A fire in Walnut Grove on Thursday caused devastating damage to the landmark Giusti’s Place restaurant.
The kitchen fire erupted around 3 p.m. and flames soon engulfed the building.
“It’s taken a little over a hundred years to create a local gathering hole and it took about two to three hours to destroy it,” said owner Mark Morias.
Morias stared at what was left of his multi-generational business created by his grandfather in the early 1900s as it burned to the ground Thursday afternoon.
Giusti’s website describes the business as the oldest restaurant and bar in the California Delta, going back to 1912 with four generations of family ownership. It has more than 1,200 hats on its ceiling and pictures of celebrities who have visited and other memorabilia on its walls. The business has been featured on the show “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.”
It’s known for homestyle meals and its deep roots in the community.
With no fire lines in the area, firefighters had to bring in their own water tankers and use a pump to siphon water out of the Delta to fight the flames.
Morias said he smelled something strange in the morning but didn’t see anything. Around 3 p.m., he said his son called him and said the smell was getting stronger.
“So he went downstairs and saw around the propane water heater that there was a little fire so he went upstairs and got an extinguisher and extinguished it, but it creeped up the side of the wall,” Morias said.
“[When] we got here, there was fire out the back of the building, up the wall. There’s old saloon-style construction, so it was already up the attic when we got to the scene already,” said Walnut Grove Assistant Fire Chief Dave Robinson.
Customer Christopher Lee, of Walnut Grove, had been coming to Giusti’s for decades and just had lunch there Wednesday.
“It’s hard to internalize looking at it now, and it’s just a shame,” Lee said.
Tony Ferreira told KCRA 3 he has had at least 30 important celebrations there in his lifetime.
“They probably do 150 lunches a day out of that place. It’s just the spot where we come where we’re comfortable. We do business deals here, we do business lunches here. Birthday, anniversaries. I could go on and on and on,” Ferreira said.
Morias watched with some members of his family from the parking lot as the volunteer firefighters did everything they could to save his business. He said he’s hopeful that at least one of the rare treasures inside survived.
“The one thing that I hope is still intact is our old cash register that was purchased in 1906 or 03 by my grandfather. It still has the purchase sticker on the bottom of the drawer,” he said.
By 11 p.m. Thursday, the fire was mostly out, but a pile of rubble was still smoldering. Two fire trucks and about six firefighters remained as a precaution.
Morias said he can’t commit to rebuilding just yet, but it’s been a very long day and told KCRA 3 that right now, he just “needs a beer.”