ELK RAPIDS — Firefighters continue to investigate a blaze that left a longtime Elk Rapids restaurant in ruins.
Flames ripped through the Riverwalk Grill on Sunday night, destroying the building located near the intersection of U.S. 31 and Ames Street in Elk Rapids.
"It's just heartbreaking," said restaurant manager Rebecca Crampton.
The Elk Rapids Fire Department responded around 10:30 p.m. Sunday with firefighters from Milton Township, Torch Lake Township and Grand Traverse Metro fire departments. The structure was not fully engulfed upon arrival, but the blaze escalated throughout the night, said Elk Rapids Assistant Chief Ken Williamson.
"It was a very difficult fire to fight because it was in the crawl space," Williamson said.
Firefighters had the flames under control by daybreak, but the building was left in ruins. Williamson said it's a total loss.
No cause has been determined.
Crampton said she was the last one to leave the restaurant about 10 p.m. Sunday. Within an hour, she received a call that the building was on fire. Smoke was pouring out the vents and windows when she returned to Ames Street.
On Monday morning, Crampton and a small group of restaurant employees stood in shock before the charred building.
"It's terrible. I can't believe it," said Doug Jennings, who worked as kitchen manager at Riverwalk Grill for seven years. "It's just devastating."
The restaurant employs about a dozen people in the off-season, and Crampton thinks of her co-workers as family.
"I'm probably here more than I'm at home," she said.
Brothers Matt and Mark Davies opened the Riverwalk Grill in 2003 in the former Elk River Inn location at 106 Ames St. They own several restaurants in northern Michigan, including the Peninsula Grill on Old Mission Peninsula and Union Cantina in downtown Traverse City. They could not be reached for comment Monday.