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'It's heartbreaking': Family loses decades-old El Sombrero restaurant to fire
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Gainesville Fire Department firefighters work Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, at the El Sombrero restaurant on Browns Bridge Road. - photo by Scott Rogers

Maria Guzman was standing outside in the cold in the parking lot as flames destroyed the restaurant her family owns.

El Sombrero Mexican restaurant at 2010 Browns Bridge Road will be a total loss, the Gainesville Fire Department reported after responding to a 5:30 a.m. 911 call.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Guzman said. “It’s very emotional just to sit here and look at it.”

She grew up working there, and her father Arturo, co-owns the restaurant with Ernesto Aguirre.

Her brother got a notification from the alarm system and called her around 5:40 a.m.

When Guzman and her brother first saw the fire, they decided not to tell their father just yet. She knew it would not be easy for him to see.

“Me just looking at it, it’s really intense and sad and emotional and I know they worked very hard to do this,” Maria Guzman said. “So I’d rather him not be here.”

Multiple levels to the roof caused delays for firefighters.

El Sombrero fire

Gainesville firefighters work Nov. 14, 2019, at the scene of a fire at El Sombrero on Browns Bridge Road.
By: Layne Saliba

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“The building has been remodeled so many times, it’s got three roofs on it is what we are estimating,” Division Chief Keith Smith said. “They’ve been put on, put on, put on. So we’re having a hard time trying to get all of the fire extinguished. They’re working inside. They’re working outside.”

An aerial apparatus was used to flow water onto the structure, Smith said. 

“Unfortunately it got a good start on us before we got here because whatever was burning was burning for a while,” Smith said.

The roadway was shut down much of the morning but reopened by about 1 p.m., Smith said.

El Sombrero opened its first location in 1985 on Thompson Bridge Road, where the Walmart Neighborhood Market is now. The Browns Bridge Road location was its second and opened a few years later.

Smith said the department was continuing to put out hotspots for hours, and the fire marshal will continue to investigate over the coming days.

“It will probably be Monday or Tuesday before he’s able to make any kind of determination,” Smith said about the fire.

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