PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - A historic building in Harrison County is now just a pile of blackened debris. A late night fire destroyed the Old Cuevas Bistro, leaving a community in shock.
The Harrison County Fire Marshal and the sheriff's department will return to the restaurant on Friday morning to search for the cause of the blaze. Throughout the day, customers stopped by to comfort the owner and share fond memories of the popular landmark.
"This is so sad. This was a piece of history. I'm shaking right now. We came here to have lunch," said Kolleen Verlander, of Pass Christian.
Verlander and her two friends had no idea what had happened to one of their favorite restaurants when they pulled into the parking lot off Menge Avenue on Thursday morning.
"Shock and disappointment, yeah it's sad, very sad," said Carol Maillho, of Diamondhead.
"Well, no Reuben sandwich today. No Chicken Milanese," said her friend Joycelynn Tresch.
Other customers shook their heads in disbelief as they stopped by to see the charred ruins of the Old Cuevas Bistro. Blanche Gray and her husband ate at the restaurant just last week.
"It just makes me so sad, because it looks like it's pretty much gone beyond any kind of repair. It was a historic building, as well as a really wonderful restaurant. I think it had the best food in the area," said Gray.
If the walls could talk, they would tell stories of the building's rich history. The original structure was built in 1851 as a trading post. The building burned down six years later and was rebuilt. Over the years, it operated as a grocery store, filling station and laundromat.
General Manager Joseph Schuman remembered restoring the restaurant after it flooded during Hurricane Katrina.
"Just so sad. I put a lot of work and blood and tears in after Katrina. It's more like a baby. It was something that we nurtured for seven years since Katrina. We went through BP. We went through the road closing. We went through the depression. We thought we were invincible, but I guess that we're not," said Schuman.
"It's sad to lose something like that, because if Katrina didn't take it, it's really special, and now it's gone," said Gray.
The owner, Cassandra Timmons, lives right next door to the restaurant. She told WLOX it was devastating to watch the building burn. Timmons said the restaurant was her life, and she plans to rebuild.
The employees hope to salvage what they can, including a sign above the bar that survived Katrina.
"It's charred up, but you can read 'Bistro and Bakery,'" said Schuman.
When asked what the sign means, Schuman replied, "Perseverance. I think we're going to get beyond this."
Harrison County Fire Marshal Pat Sullivan said the fire was so large, intense and fast moving, it took firefighters about three hours to get the blaze under control.
"In this particular building, you have a kitchen and you have lots of air conditioning which are above the firefighters. The firefighters went inside initially to try to attack the fire, but it was so much fire in there and things started falling that they had to pull back out," said Sullivan.
Sullivan said their biggest challenge was trying to keep the flames from reaching the owner's home next door.
"We concentrated on protecting her home, in addition to making sure that no firefighter was injured," Sullivan said.