A firefighter approaches the restaurantís dining room on Tuesday afternoon. About 25 patrons were inside when a grease fire started. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
Livonia — Every day for nearly 30 years, Steven Soderquist has stopped by the Ram's Horn for coffee and friendly conversation. That daily routine got cut short Tuesday around noon when a fire blazed through the long-established restaurant on Middle Belt.
"I was sitting at the counter," said Soderquist, 53, of Northville. "I was having something to eat. All of a sudden it smelled funny. The manager and the workers were telling everyone to get out. It was a grease fire."
Soderquist said the employees did a good job of evacuating about 25 patrons from the building, in the 20300 block of Middle Belt just south of Eight Mile, in an orderly fashion when the fire began around 12:13 p.m. Within five minutes, he said, the restaurant was engulfed in smoke.
"The place went up real quick," he said. "The smoke was just billowing out the doors."
By late Tuesday afternoon firefighters had almost extinguished the fire. There were no reported injuries. The building was deemed a total loss, fire officials said.
"When I first walked out to see what was going on, I couldn't even see the restaurant because the smoke was so black and heavy," said Erik Weingrot, manager of the United Rent All store next door.
According to Weingrot, the restaurant has been at that location for at least 40 years.
Bruce Norred and Dan Chambers, members of Clarenceville United Methodist Church across the street, saw the beginning of the fire as they left the church for lunch. At first, Norred said they saw a little smoke coming out of the back of the building, then a puff of flames from an exhaust fan.
"Right after that, it lit up big time," Norred said. "It was very fast."
Norred said he watched as the patrons calmly walked out of the front of the building while employees in the rear of the building called for emergency responders.
"The employees looked a little frantic as they were making the calls," he said.
As for Soderquist, he said he hopes they'll rebuild the popular restaurant. In the meantime, he'll have to find somewhere else to dine Wednesday. "I won't have much choice," he said.