Flames gut Cabo San Luis restaurant

Firefighters arrived at the Foothill Square retail complex around 4 a.m. Wednesday.
Firefighters arrived at the Foothill Square retail complex around 4 a.m. Wednesday.

An early morning fire severely damaged a San Luis Obispo restaurant and damaged several nearby businesses Wednesday, causing more than $1 million in damage.

Firefighters arrived at the Foothill Square retail complex in the 900 block of Foothill Boulevard about 4 a.m. to find the Cabo San Luis restaurant fully ablaze.

No one was injured. Investigators Wednesday were working to determine the cause of the fire.

Kona’s Deli, a longtime favorite of students and locals, sustained moderate smoke, water and heat damage. An architectural supply business that had not yet opened was also damaged.

Firefighters kept the flames from spreading to the Shell Station facing Santa Rosa on the east side of the building and SLO Textbooks facing Foothill Boulevard on the west side.

It was not clear when the other nearby businesses can expect to reopen.

The eastbound stretch of Foothill Boulevard at Foothill Square was closed to traffic through the morning; one lane was reopened by mid-afternoon.

Dan Harper, who has owned Cabo San Luis for 11 years, said he wants to reopen for business as soon as possible, but he is not yet sure where that will be.

“Our intention is to start serving the community fish tacos again soon,” Harper said, referring to one of the popular items on the menu.

He added that it would probably take a year at the minimum to rebuild the Foothill site, and that he might have to seek another location.

Harper employs 17 people at the restaurant.

“It hurts really bad to have them all out of a job in one fell swoop,” said Harper. “We are working with them to see if there is something we can do to help.”

San Luis Obispo fire Capt. Bob Bisson was one of the first to respond.

“The redwoods behind the restaurant were torched to the top and looked like two Roman candles,” he said.

Fire crews spent two hours containing the blaze and half the day securing the site.

Shortly after crews arrived, the restaurant’s roof collapsed and a large carbon dioxide tank exploded — blowing out a wall and scattering debris all the way to Santa Rosa.

Dan Rutledge, property manager of the commercial complex, said the center contains about 15,000 square feet of retail space.

Wednesday’s fire was the largest commercial fire that San Luis Obispo firefighters have battled in the past few years, said fire Marshal Rodger Maggio.

It is not the first time that a serious fire occurred at the complex. In 1984, two arson fires set within an hour of each other did extensive damage to a San Luis Obispo apartment building and a Burger King restaurant. And in 1990, a fire caused by oily rags burned a vacant building at the shopping complex and caused $25,000 in damage.

Staff writer Larissa Doust contributed to this story.

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