Merced's landmark eatery Paul's Place rising from the ashes

abutt@mercedsunstar.comJune 4, 2012 

The kitchen inside Paul's Place, a popular longtime Merced restaurant, smells like burnt marshmallows.

Signs of the late-April fire, which shuttered the G Street business, still exist. Black scorch marks are still visible on the kitchen's walls and ceiling.

"The kitchen is (where) the bulk of the damage is," said owner Paul Ybarra. "It was pretty intense and it melted the stainless steel hood in the kitchen, which covers all the cooking equipment."

Despite the damage to the restaurant, considered by many locals to be a Merced institution, Paul's Place won't be closed for much longer.

Workers have been busy repairing the fire damage, and Ybarra said he plans on reopening the restaurant around the beginning of July.

"We answer the phones to let people know," he said. "People see us open (doing repairs) and stop by to check on us."

Manager Martin Soliz said the painting is done in the restaurant, and now the next step is to repair the kitchen.

He said the restaurant was affected by smoke damage, and the stove, a broiler and two deep fryers were victims of the fire in the kitchen.

Customers would come from Mariposa to eat at the restaurant, including tourists who were traveling Highway 99, he said.

"The phone rings every five minutes. They're eager to see us open again," Soliz said.

The small kitchen fire started near the fryers and was extinguished by restaurant staff. The fire apparently started up again, however, after the restaurant closed that night.

A private security patrolman in the area spotted flames on the restaurant's roof early in the morning. Security cameras captured footage of the fire starting underneath the fryer.

The fire caused an estimated $100,000 in damage to the kitchen.

The restaurant was purchased and renamed in 1993 by Ybarra, a native of Santa Barbara. Under previous ownership, it was known as Ryan's Place. The restaurant serves as a meeting place for a number of service clubs and church groups.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.

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