The two-alarm fire burned for hours. The businesses inside, including new store Shoppe Local and award-winning Heidi’s, appeared to be a total loss.
Minneapolis Fire Department crews spent hours battling a two-alarm fire in a commercial building at the intersection of West 50th Street and Bryant Avenue South Feb. 18.
The fire caused significant damage to the building, which housed two popular restaurants, Blackbird Cafe and Heidi’s, Stacey Johnson Jewelry Design and boutique retailers Patina and Shoppe Local. Two firefighters were treated for minor injuries. No other injuries were reported.
The charred building sat boarded and roped off the next day. A section of 50th Street in front of the building was closed.
Fire Investigator Denise Bryn said fire crews were called to the scene just before 1 p.m. Throughout most of the afternoon, the blaze was too intense for firefighters to enter the building, and at times flames rose 10 to 15 feet above the building. Crews stayed on the scene into the evening.
Bryn said the fire started in Heidi’s. The restaurant’s fire-suppression system doused a grease fire in the kitchen but apparently not before that fire traveled through ductwork and into an attic space, she said.
Patina and Shoppe Local manager Ann Seehof said her employees smelled smoke just before 1 p.m. Fire trucks arrived on the scene about 10 minutes later, she said.
Two hours after the initial call, there were at least seven fire trucks on the scene. Fire crews from Richfield were assisting.
Streets within a several block radius of the fire were closed Feb. 18 and smoke drifted throughout the area. A large crowd including business owners, staff and patrons gathered on the sidewalks outside.
Seehof, who was standing in a small group that included building owner Christine Ward, said it was a “really sad” day.
“This neighborhood has really grown a lot,” she said. “We’re really a part of this neighborhood. We have faith that we’ll get through this.”
Patina has several other locations, but the 50th & Bryant store was the first.
Blackbird Café owner Gail Mollner stood crying outside the building.
“I can’t believe this is my life,” Mollner said as a friend embraced her.
Blackbird Café opened in July 2007 and Heidi’s, the home kitchen of acclaimed chef Stewart Woodman, opened in October 2007. The blaze engulfed both restaurants on the same day Woodman was named semi-finalist for the 2010 James Beard Foundation Awards in the category of “Best Chef: Midwest.”
Heidi’s namesake Heidi Woodman stood outside the building as flames consumed her restaurant. She wasn’t there when the fire started, but arrived shortly afterward.
"My beautiful restaurant will not be serving dinner tonight," she said, seemingly in shock at the sight.
As the fire roared, the building’s ceiling caved in. Destroyed furnishings and merchandise could be seen beyond the large broken windows, through which firefighters aimed several gushing hoses. Shoppe Local, a brand-new sibling of Patina, was full of local art, jewelry, clothing and other items.
Jacqueline VanCleef, who lives immediately behind Patina, was distraught about the loss of the businesses as she monitored the scene near her home, which was filled with smoke but otherwise undamaged as far as she could tell.
"The Shoppe Local just opened, and I’m sure that’s all Minnesota artists putting their heart into their stuff and it’s just sitting there burning," she said. "That just gives me chills."
In a blog post the day after the fire, Stewart Woodman expressed gratitude for an outpouring of patron support. He also had a message for his staff.
"To my beautiful and amazing staff, it’s so vital that this is just life, the passions that went into making Heidi’s a unique and special experience still remain, in you, in me, in us, it surrounds us, and beckons us to accept challenges, embrace them, and look to the horizon for new opportunities to do this work again," he wrote.
Blackbird also thanked patrons on its website, which announced that the restaurant was "closed for a while."