A two-alarm fire ripped through Mozy Cafe and three other businesses early Monday, Sept. 30, gutting the colorful iconic Leucadia building along North Coast Highway 101, and arson investigators are trying to determine what ignited the blaze.
The fire was reported shortly after midnight by nearby residents who awoke to the smell of smoke and fire officials immediately summoned more resources after seeing flames shooting through the roof. The building, on the corner of the highway and Daphne Street, also housed the Cali Life art gallery, Shatto and Sons T-shirts and Peace Pies.
“Fire crews got a call around 12:15 a.m. and when they arrived on scene — within about three minutes or so — the building was full involved, it was going through the roof,” said Encinitas acting Fire Marshal Kerri Berberet. “It took them a while to extinguish it, trying to chase down the fire and get through some locked areas.”
An Encinitas battalion chief immediately upgraded the blaze to a two-alarm fire, summoning firefighters from Rancho Santa Fe, Carlsbad, Solana Beach, Del Mar and Vista to assist firefighters from Encinitas.
Crews worked for hours to extinguish the fire, at one point bringing in a bulldozer to knock down flames burning in an unreachable part of the front of the building. By 6:30 a.m., the blaze was finally out. A damage estimate wasn’t immediately available.
“The cafe is a loss. The other businesses, I’m sure they are going to need a lot of work,” Berberet said.
A stretch of the highway was closed as fire crews worked, but the roadway reopened to traffic by Monday morning.
Residents living in 10 homes in a subdivision directly behind the restaurant were temporarily evacuated as the fire kicked up a thick plume of smoke, but the fire didn’t spread to the buildings, Berberet said. “Nobody was displaced. A couple residents in two homes right behind the cafe were staying with other neighbors until the smoke got down to a lower level,” she said.
Sheriff’s arson investigators will try to determine the cause of the fire. The investigation could take a week or longer, Berberet said.
Although she had never eaten at the cafe, Berberet said it had a reputation for “really good breakfast burritos” and she hopes they will rebuild. “Hopefully they will bounce back and the community will come around and support them and they can get back in business,” Berberet said.
The building was constructed in the 1910s and was the first building in Encinitas to display a mural on its exterior walls, said property owner James Shatto, who has owned the building since 1979 and has run a T-shirt business there for nearly 45 years.
The business is now run by his son, Ryan Shatto, who said his memories of the building stretch back to his earliest days. “My dad would take me to work every day and my crib was in the back of the shop… I am at a loss for words,” he said.
Over the years, the building has been home to several businesses — from surf shops to cafes to art galleries.
Greg Cali, who has owned the Cali Life art gallery for just over a year, was picking through the rubble Monday, trying to salvage what he could. “This was a touch of my present, a lot of my past that I can’t get back and a lot of my future that I had plans for,” said Cali, who is a photographer.
Gary Grassi, the owner of Mozy Cafe, which boasted a colorful surf-themed mural and a sign that promised “good food, food vibes,” said he was shocked by the destructive fire. But Grassi said he believes “there is going to be a lot of love and support from the community” as a result of the loss.
Shatto said he’s working with his insurance company and hopes to rebuild. “My intentions are to bring it back to look similarly to how it looked yesterday,” he said.
Note: GoFundMe campaigns have been set up to support the businesses impacted by the fire at https://www.gofundme.com/f/rebuild-thecalilife-gallery-and-photography-studio
— Karen Kucher and Luke Garrett are reporters for The San Diego Union-Tribune
3:08 PM, Sep. 30, 2019: This story was updated with additional details from business owners affected by the fire.
11 AM, Sep. 30, 2019: This story was updated with additional information from Encinitas fire officials