HOUSTON – Arson investigators are on the scene of a fire that damaged the landmark Cleburne Cafeteria near West University Place early Tuesday morning.
The Houston Fire Department was called just after midnight. According to District 28 Chief Bob Schlieter, most of the roof collapsed and much of the business was destroyed.
Firefighters went into the restaurant through a front door, then forced two back doors open in efforts to fight the fire.
Wiring and air conditioning ducts in the space between the restaurant's drop ceiling and the building's roof helped fuel the fire, according to Schlieter.
They were not able to get the space opened quickly enough to keep the fire from spreading.
Schlieter said crews were putting out hot spots before arson investigators could go inside. Nearly 50 firefighters fought the flames for three hours.
Investigators said no one was inside the building when the fire started. No injuries were reported.
It is unclear what caused the fire.
To call Cleburne a staple in Houston doesn't do it justice when you consider it's been around since World War II. It's been family-owned since its inception in 1941.
"This is the only job I've ever had and it's devastating because they've been chasing this fire through the ceiling and it just seems like once they've put it out, there's more flames," George Mickelis, son of the restaurant's owner said. "All I know is that there's some paintings in there that are irreplaceable because my dad painted them. There's no monetary value. They wouldn't get anything, but to me, that's all I got left of my dad. You know, it's something I can hold onto and say 'you know my dad did that, he handed it down."
Father Michael Lambakis is a Cleburne regular and he always ordered the usual: chicken fried chicken.
"Honestly, my favorite place to eat," he said.
Some of Mickelis' father's original paintings survived the flames.
"I'm very thankful to see. That's a beautiful, beautiful painting. A lot of people like that painting," Mickelis said.
That's the second time these paintings have been restored. They made it through the 1990 fire, too.
"It's devastating to go through it once in a lifetime. I almost thought, OK well that can never happen again. I still can't believe it's happened again," he said.