An extra-alarm fire early Wednesday destroyed a popular family-run restaurant that has been a mainstay in the Pilsen neighborhood since the early 1960s.
The fire broke out at Nuevo Leon Restaurant at 1515 W. 18th St. around 12:30 a.m. and was soon upgraded to a 2-11 alarm to bring in more equipment, officials said. The fire eventually spread next door to Tortilleria Sabinas, which makes tortillas.
Firefighters battled the blaze for hours and it was struck out about 3:30 a.m., officials said.
Dozens of residents and workers from Nuevo Leon and Tortilleria gathered, some hugging each other and wiping away tears.Â Nuevo Leon has been around since 1962 and was a staple in Pilsen.
â€œWe had a lot of regulars,â€ said Maria Gutierrez, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Daniel Gutierrez. â€œThey were like family to us.â€
Maria Gutierrez said every employee was out of the restaurant by about 11 p.m. when the fire started in the back of the building. Only Gutierrezâ€™s son was on the second floor, which was anÂ office for the business. He was dozing off when he smelled smoke and was able to get out safely, Gutierrez said.
â€œEverything was all right when they closed,â€ said Daniel Gutierrez.
Groups of nearby residents periodically came up to hug the Gutierrezes as they stood at the intersection of 18th and Laflin early Wednesday.
â€œItâ€™s very hard for me to talk right now,â€ Maria Gutierrez said with swollen eyes as she watched firefighters hose the restaurantâ€™s building with water from tower ladder trucks. â€œItâ€™s just devastating.â€
The restaurant employed about 40 people, Gutierrez said.
Jovana Ibarra, who lives with her family about two blocks from the restaurant, said she heard a small explosion before looking out the window to see what happened.
Ibarraâ€™s aunt, uncle and cousin-in-law have worked at Nuevo Leon for years.
â€œThat was their income,â€ Ibarra said. â€œItâ€™s just sad because I grew up, we grew up, knowing this place. Itâ€™s sad.â€
Daniel Gutierrez said the business was insured and the restaurant would be rebuilt.
â€œIâ€™m worried about my employees right now, then my customers,â€ heÂ said.
The fire is still under investigation.
Video courtesy ofÂ SRResquire