CHAMPAIGN — The Ruby Tuesday restaurant on North Prospect Avenue planned to reopen at 5 p.m. Saturday following a fire outside the building Friday night.
No one was hurt, but about three dozen customers and employees had to be evacuated when landscaping just outside the restaurant at 2301 N. Prospect Ave., caught fire.
Champaign Fire Marshal John Koller said the cause remains under investigation.
“We are waiting on video. Like always, we are going to do a thorough investigation. It could be intentionally set. Could it have been accidental? Absolutely,” he said.
Koller said he needs to obtain surveillance videos from the restaurant and nearby businesses to help him determine how it started.
Jerry Ruta, president and owner of the company that owns the Ruby Tuesday franchise, said there were about two dozen customers and 10 or so employees in the restaurant just before 10 p.m.
Koller said an employee had gone out the back door and spotted an evergreen and surrounding mulch on fire and alerted his manager.
Ruta and Koller praised the manager for doing exactly what she was trained to do.
“She ensured the safety of our team and guests and evacuated the building,” Ruta said.
“We do a lot of public education with the businesses and with the public in general, and they did exactly what they were supposed to do with their customers and with their employees and getting them out,” Koller added.
Ruta said the doors to the restaurant were left open most of Saturday to ventilate and make sure there was no lingering smell from the fire. The carpets were to be cleaned Sunday. Ceiling tiles that firefighters pulled down as a precaution were replaced.
And all the prepared food was tossed out.
“We lost a significant dollar amount in sales and of course, all the sales (Saturday) afternoon. It is significant. But that’s secondary. I can’t tell you how proud I am of how they reacted and got everybody out,” said Ruta.
Koller said the evergreen trees that caught fire were close to being dead.
“It’s summer, it’s hot and dry. We have several mulch fires. Dispose of cigarettes properly. Don’t throw them out a window. If you have dead vegetation around your home or business, get it out of there,” he said.