It's not known when one of the busiest restaurants in Waikiki will reopen after an early morning fire.
Honolulu Fire Department investigators said the fire started in the kitchen of The Cheesecake Factory at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center just before 3:30am Friday.
Fire investigators say the cause of the fire was an accidental gas leak to a deep fat fryer. The cause of the leak is undetermined. A pilot light in the appliance was the source of ignition for the leaking gas.
Damage is estimated at $2,500,000. This includes damage to the restaurant's kitchen, exhaust duct and smoke damage to adjacent businesses in the shopping center.
A restaurant cleaning employee described hearing an explosion and tried putting out the fire with an extinguisher.
But the flames spread quickly through the ventilation system, creating a challenge for firefighters.
“The ducting system is designed to move cooking grease and smoke up to the roof where there’s penetration,” said Capt. Terry Seelig, HFD spokesman.
Shocked employees watched helplessly as crews worked to contain the fire.
“Honestly, it’s like heartbreaking. It’s like our family. This is how we make a living and the fact that we’re probably going to be closed tomorrow is heartbreaking for us,” said Cheesecake Factory employee Natasha Flores.
Guy Higuet and his wife Ivy, who are visiting from Chicago, could see the flames from their ninth floor hotel room next door.
“It was a very shocking,” said Guy Higuet.
“Very shocking, especially since we’d had dinner here and it was like, ‘Oh my god, is that The Cheesecake Factory on fire?’” said Ivy Higuet.
The fire was extinguished about two hours later.
HFD said the fire caused moderate damage to the restaurant's duct system.
One-hundred and fifty guests at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel were evacuated because of the heavy smoke, which spread throughout the shopping center.
Retailers Forever 21, Bebe and Beijing Chinese Restaurant were the only businesses affected by the fire. They’re open for business on Friday with the only evidence of the fire is the lingering smell of smoke.
Forever 21 spent the morning airing out their store. They're still assessing any losses, if any, and said they'll bill the restaurant for any damages.
Restaurant goers were somewhat disappointed.
California visitors Guy and Tierni Martins had hoped to have lunch on this last day of their vacation.
“Well, there’s plenty of restaurants. We’ll find something else,” said Tierni Martins.
“Yeah, we’re pretty relaxed after a week here, but it would have been nice to have their Cobb Salad,” said Guy Martins.
The restaurant hopes to reopen as soon as possible.
In a statement, the company said “We’d like to thank the Honolulu Fire Department for their quick response and tremendous efforts in distinguishing the fire.”
The Waikiki Cheecake Factory opened in 2004 and is one of the top-grossing restaurants in the company's chain.