Popular restaurant completely destroyed; cause of fire under investigation
■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
Popular restaurant El Patron Mexican Grill Cantina went up in flames last Thursday, Dec. 22, leaving nearly $900,000 worth of destruction in its wake.
The fire broke out around 1:35 a.m. early Thursday morning, when Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire response arrived to find the restaurant shrouded in heavy smoke and collapsed inner structures. The restaurant closed at 9 p.m. that night; no injuries or victims have been reported.
According to Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Public Information Officer April Newman, 25 firefighters were assisted by a Breathing Support Unit and a Medic Squad. The blaze lasted nearly six hours, and was put out by a total of 35 firefighters shortly after 6 a.m. The cause of fire is still under investigation.
From the outside, the front exterior of the building remains nearly intact, aside from the shattered roof tiles surrounding the front entrance. Charred furniture, soot and ash lay within the majority of the interior of the former restaurant, beneath a gaping hole where its ceiling used to be.
Last Saturday, Abel Sanchez, owner of El Patron, shared an update on his personal Facebook page:
“At the moment, the investigation is still ongoing. We are unsure whether or not it was an accident or an intentional incident,” he wrote, before thanking customers and staff for their support and patronage. “At this moment, we are unsure of what will happen to El Patron, due to the difficult time we are going through. I’m sure you folks can imagine the devastation our family is facing. To stand there and watch your dreams burn and melt; for it all to turn to ashes in less than six hours… Let us tell you it wasn’t easy to stand back and watch it all go down. This dream took us over 16 years to bring it to life, however through it all we feel blessed to be able to say we were the most popular restaurant.”
Sanchez has expressed interest in reopening the restaurant; however, it seems to him that it is much too early to be making that call.
“We would love the opportunity to start all over again but at this point and time in life we are unsure of what our next step will be. Many of our lives have been deeply affected by the tragedy.” El Patron was a local hotspot, where Hemet/San Jacinto residents would often frequent to eat authentic Mexican food, dance, hang out, sing karaoke, and enjoy their famous “Margarita Mondays.” During its five years of business, El Patron helped employ more than 150 families, and has been involved with numerous nonprofit organizations.
On Dec. 27, the Hemet Workforce Development Center (WDC) hosted a “rapid response” workshop for the employees of El Patron. Their services offered applications for unemployment insurance benefits, information on other community assistance programs such as temporary mortgage assistance, rental assistance, etc., and an overview of services provided by the WDC. They also offered resume assistance, job leads and referrals to local employers that are currently hiring, and one-on-one appointments with career coaches.