July 12, 2001 – A fire of unknown origin destroyed the kitchen and caused serious smoke and water damage to Margarita's Mexican Eatery in Cruz Bay early Thursday morning.
The restaurant, specializing in Mexican cuisine and margarita drinks, opened just under two years ago in the spot previously occupied by Luscious Licks. It is owned by Phil Hoffman of St. John.
The restaurant had been closed for several days while Hoffman spent time refurbishing and "cleaning and making it beautiful," according to his wife, Helen, who also owns a business, Cruz Bay Clothing, at Wharfside Village.
She said she and her husband were "in shock" but planned on rebuilding the restaurant, which she said was Hoffman's "baby."
"We had just completed our collection of tequila," she said, and she had just bought several new cookbooks for her husband. But, she added, "I am just very thankful no one was hurt."
Fire Inspector Wayne Crooke said an investigation into the cause of the fire, which started in the kitchen, will continue for at least a week. "We have pinpointed where the fire started, but we want to be absolutely certain of the cause before we make any statements," he said.
Crooke said inspectors were working "through a process of elimination" and that the possibility of arson had not been ruled out.
Four fire trucks responded to the blaze, three from the Cruz Bay Fire Station and one from Romeo Company in Coral Bay, after being called by police. The restaurant had no fire alarm but did have a burglar alarm, according to Crooke, so police were the first to find out about the blaze, which started about 2:30 a.m.
Several nearby business people and Crooke noted, however, that Fire Services responded very quickly and minimized the damage.
"When you have a wooden structure, it would be easy for it to be completely destroyed," Crooke said. But only the kitchen was a total loss, and there was no fire damage to adjacent buildings and businesses.
One such business, Coki, Coki, situated in front of Margarita's on the street, had a melted gutter but no damage to the store itself, one observer said.
However, smoke and water caused substantial damage to the bar area of the restaurant.
Kate Norfleet, whose design business, Kate N Design, is directly above the restaurant, said her office had suffered no apparent damage.
"I feel really lucky," she said. "His ceiling is my floor."
However, the power had not yet been turned back on in the complex, which also houses St. John Editions, a clothing store, so Norfleet wasn't able to determine whether there was any damage to her computer equipment.
"But when I came in, the UPS's [backup uninterruptible power source units] were bleeping," she said, calling that a good sign.
The structure is wood and cement, Crooke said.


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