A Pasadena landmark went up in flames early yesterday as a two-alarm fire destroyed the Wooden Nickel restaurant.
Three or four employees were in the single-story brick structure when the blaze erupted in the dining area shortly after 1 a.m. They were unable to control the fire.
"They found it wasn't something they could handle on their own, and they evacuated when fire units arrived," said Lt. Tim Michaels, an Anne Arundel EMS/Fire/Rescue spokesman.
Firefighters arrived just before 1: 20 a.m., and immediately called for the second alarm. The fire was declared under control about 3 a.m. Although no one was injured, damage was extensive.
Michaels said the building in the 8300 block of Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd. was worth an estimated $750,000. It was destroyed along with about $200,000 in furnishings and kitchen equipment.
The owner, Cesare John Morisi of Pasadena, had recently begun making improvements after buying the Wooden Nickel in May, according to neighbors and patrons.
Morisi was unavailable for comment yesterday, but a son said that his father has vowed not to let the fire ruin his dream of running a thriving restaurant.
"He wants to rebuild it," said the son, Cesare Joseph Morisi, 23, who worked there as manager and came to the scene to inspect the damage.
The restaurant employed about 18 people, he said.
Neighbors said the restaurant was a landmark that had served the community for decades.
"It's been there for years and years," said Robert O. Newman, who frequently ate there as a member of the Mountain Road Kiwanis Club.
Rose Boring, a next-door neighbor whose family owned the Wooden Nickel for 27 years until selling it last year, said the fire was painful to watch.
"It was terrible," she said. "I saw a lot of flames coming up. There was smoke, there was flames, there was water."
The Boring family purchased the restaurant in 1971, when it was known as John and Shirley's, she said. They renamed the place and expanded it from 2,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet.
Regulars stopped by yesterday to view the damage, offer sympathy to the Morisis and recall what they liked about the establishment.
"This was one place a woman could go and be comfortable," said Ellen Blessing of Pasadena. "The age groups blended well."
Newman said the Kiwanis Club held its meetings at the Wooden Nickel for years, until about two months ago when Morisi remodeled a banquet room and put in pool tables.
He said that Morisi had made minor changes to the menu, adding Italian dishes to the traditional beef, chicken and seafood fare.
"It was just a nice place," he said. "You could bring your family there."
Michaels said the cause of the blaze is under investigation.
Pub Date: 4/25/99