Chad Boutte was getting ready to leave for work Wednesday morning when he smelled the fire.
As he rushed to get his pets out of his apartment, firefighters were rushing toward the building next door on Decatur Street, where a blaze had started in the kitchen of Fiorella’s Cafe, sending smoke billowing through the French Quarter.
Firefighters fought the blaze for about an hour before bringing it under control, according to Fire Department Superintendent Timothy McConnell.
There were no injuries, and the fire did not spread to adjacent structures, McConnell said, but it did cause “pretty extensive damage” inside the restaurant and smoke damage to the adjoining buildings.
McConnell said the first call about the fire came in at 9:15 a.m. Firefighters arrived within four minutes and declared the blaze under control at 10:32 a.m.
One of the restaurant’s owners told firefighters the fire began in the kitchen, where two employees were cooking.
An oven hood meant to suppress the threat of fires was not operating. Investigators were trying to figure out why the device malfunctioned, McConnell said.
“Unfortunately, we’ve been waiting for this to happen,” said Boutte, the neighbor. “It’s been a time bomb waiting to explode, and it finally happened.”
Boutte said he has lived next door to the restaurant for years and has worried about the possibility of a fire because of what he called poor upkeep.
Guy Olano, a businessman with a stake in several restaurants and French Quarter strip clubs, also owns Fiorella’s. His attorney, Julie Quinn, called the fire “extremely unfortunate.”
“I’d certainly dispute that,” she said when asked whether poor upkeep helped contribute to the fire. “I know it’s difficult when commercial and residential co-exist. There’s always tensions, and particularly when you have buildings from the 1800s.”
Two weeks ago, the Vieux Carre Commission sent the building’s listed owner, a company called Gold Leaf Investments, a notice about several violations related to deteriorated doors and windows, inappropriate signage and unpermitted work. But the VCC deals with architectural and zoning rules, not code violations.
There are no active code enforcement violations for the building, according to City Hall spokesman Hayne Rainey.
Attempts to reach a registered agent for Gold Leaf Investments were not successful.
A restaurant at the location of Fiorella’s, 1136 Decatur St., has been in business since the 1930s; it opened under its current name in 1984. But the business is no longer owned by the Fiorella family, which sold the restaurant in 1999.