Loyal patrons looking for a cozy breakfast or lunch at family-owned Humpty Dumpty Kitchen will have to look elsewhere as the popular diner sustained significant fire damage Saturday night.
No one was injured in the blaze as the restaurant closes at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and the building, located at 1711 East Main St., was vacant.
“There were flames coming up the side,” said Steven Cragle, a Grass Valley resident who noticed the smoke while driving by and reported the fire to emergency services at approximately 8:40 p.m. Saturday.
“As we were driving by, we saw smoke coming from all sides like a bunch of chimneys,” Cragle said.
The fire appeared to have started in a storage room at the back of the building, not the kitchen, said owner Randy Hodges upon an initial survey of the damage Saturday night.
“We didn't have anything in that area that should cause a fire,” Hodges said of the area containing mostly canned goods.
Scores of onlookers watched as smoke bellowed into the air and flames spread to the roof.
“Locals all know this place,” said Sandy Nettelhorst, Cragle's girlfriend. “They are busy Monday through Sunday. This is sad.”
As many as six engines and 25 firefighters from Grass Valley, Ophir Hill, Nevada City, Rough and Ready's volunteer fire department and Nevada County Consolidated Fire District responded to the blaze, battling flames for more than two hours, said Grass Valley Fire Chief Tony Clarabut.
Because the building has been remodeled several times, the fire was difficult to locate and was trapped in void pockets between floors and within the slow-sloping roof, said Consolidated Fire Chief Tim Fike. Firefighters had to chainsaw multiple holes in the wall and roof to reach hidden flames.
“This is a big loss,” Fike said.
Hodges' grandfather, L.C. Hodges, started Humpty Dumpty as a hamburger and ice cream stand in downtown Grass Valley 50 years ago, according to The Union archives. Burney and Geanine Hodges, Randy's parents, bought the downtown shop from L.C. in 1970. It was moved to the current location in 1976 when Randy and now-deceased brother Allyn took over until their brother, Robert, graduated from high school and joined them.
Humpty Dumpty Kitchen suffered a small fire in 2008, but the brothers were able to get up and running again within in a few months. Hodges said Saturday night's fire was much worse.
Initial estimates of the total cost of damage were not immediately available and the exact cause had not yet been determined.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.