TAMPA — A fire early Tuesday destroyed one of the popular restaurants that helped propel a recent rejuvenation of Old Seminole Heights.
A caller to 911 reported seeing flames and smoke just before 2 a.m. coming from inside Domani Bistro Lounge at 6421 N Florida Ave., fire officials said. When firefighters arrived, flames engulfed the rear of the building.
The fire, which also badly damaged a furniture store next door, stunned neighborhood residents and business leaders.
"Everybody is very saddened," said Debi Johnson, president of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association. "We hate to see this happen to anyone who is trying to get a business up and going."
Crews tried to fight the blaze from inside but were driven out as the flames spread. The roof collapsed. A second alarm was called, bringing the number of firefighters at the scene to about 60.
The firefighters used two bucket trucks to douse the small building, authorities said. It took about two hours to bring the fire under control.
Smoke still seeped from the roof of the building at 7 a.m. The blaze prompted emergency crews to close N Florida Avenue between Lambright Street and E Hanna Avenue for several hours Tuesday morning.
Tampa investigators later determined that the fire was caused by an electrical or mechanical malfunction in the walk-in freezer system. The building — estimated at $500,000, with another $300,000 worth of contents — was declared a total loss. No injuries were reported.
When it was over, charred wood and other debris littered the sidewalks and streets surrounding the single-story building at the corner of Florida Avenue and North Street. A sooty scent hung in the chilly morning air. Black puddles lined corners where the remains of the more than 250,000 gallons of water used to douse the fire accumulated.
A Modern Line, a furniture and art store, was also damaged from the water.
Domani Bistro Lounge opened in 2012 and soon became a popular spot in the thriving Seminole Heights restaurant scene. Places like the Refinery, the Independent, Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe and the recently opened Rooster & the Till have helped make the neighborhood known for its culinary innovation.
The 75-seat Domani specialized in Italian fare and a variety of cocktails.
Its owner, Brian Bosco, could not be reached for comment after the fire. He posted a message early Tuesday on Facebook.
"Worst night of my life," he wrote. "Just got home from watching my restaurant burn to the ground."
Since word of the fire spread, neighbors have exchanged text messages and created a Facebook page to organize efforts to help the restaurant's owners, Johnson said. The neighborhood association would discuss ways to help, financially and otherwise, at its weekly board meeting, she said.
"My understanding is they had 15 employees who are going to be out of work," Johnson said. "Hopefully Domani will be able to rebuild, and hopefully they'll be able to stay in Seminole Heights."