An emotional Liz Munson gathered the employees of Liz's Where Y'at Diner as they stood behind the smoldering rear of her restaurant and thanked them for safely evacuating customers who were eating at the popular Mandeville spot when a fire broke out Tuesday morning.

"Y'all did what you were taught to do," Munson said, adding that officials from St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 4 had also praised their efforts. "There were 24 adults and three kids who were saved today. They were all saved."

Eight employees were working at the restaurant as well. No one was injured.

Black smoke was visible rising from the low-slung, yellow building on Florida Street when the fire broke out about 10:30 a.m. Firefighters had the blaze under control by 10:38 a.m., and it was extinguished by 10:50 a.m.

The west-facing back wall was badly charred, with a portion of the roof damaged. Burned remnants of what appeared to be part of kitchen's interior were piled in an adjacent parking lot.

Manager Kim Elliott said patrons exited the building calmly. Several asked if they could take their plates of food with them. Later in the day, several returned to try to settle up their tabs, Munson said.

The diner, known for its funky vibe with clever sayings on the wall and tie-dyed wait staff, was about to celebrate its 10th anniversary at the end of the month, Elliott said.

Munson said she would rebuild, and that while she was not sure how long the business would be closed down, her workers would be taken care of in the interim.

"We're gonna be OK," she said, her voice choked with emotion. "We're gonna be OK."

Munson also expressed gratitude to the firefighters, one of whom, Stephanie Hartman, had previously worked at the diner as a manager.

"She was the one who squirted the hose," Munson said, putting her arm around her former employee.

"This was not the call I wanted to get today," Hartman said.

Andrew Canulette contributed to this report.


Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.