Owner shocked at massive fire that gutted Saskatoon's Bonanza Steakhouse

The buffet-style restaurant has been a fixture on 8th Street for 45 years.

'It's a big family': Restaurant was Saskatoon fixture for 45 years

Bonanza Steakhouse owner Gary Baba celebrated the restaurant's 21st anniversary last weekend. (Don Somers/CBC)

Last weekend, Gary Baba celebrated the 21st anniversary of the day he bought Saskatoon's Bonanza Steakhouse.

On Wednesday, the restaurant's owner watched fire investigators sift through the rubble of the building, trying to determine what started a huge fire that gutted it overnight.

"It's kind of shocking," he said. "It's sad, surreal. I got here at [4 a.m. CST] and 20 of our staff members were outside waiting for me, just to say sorry."

The buffet-style restaurant has been a fixture on Eighth Street for 45 years. During that time, it's become a beloved institution, with generations of family members working and eating there.

"It hurts. It's a big family, we have here. You wouldn't see that anywhere else," he said. "People wouldn't leave last night. They wanted me to talk to them, to give me words of encouragement."

'It was just chaos'

Carol Kidd was shocked as well. She started working at the restaurant at 16, and met her husband while working there. Her teenage children worked at Bonanza as well.

Last night, Kidd was there as the building burned.

The Bonanza Steakhouse burned for hours into Wednesday morning.

"There were fire trucks all over," she said. "It was just chaos."

The Saskatoon Fire Department said the fire burned through the building's roof. A second alarm was declared. Crews were battling the flames for hours. 

Plans to rebuild

Baba is taking stock of the situation and trying to decide what his next steps will be. While he owns the restaurant, he doesn't own the property.

He plans on rebuilding, and said he'll miss sitting and talking with regular customers the most.

"Without the customers, there's no Bonanza," he said. "It's not just me, but it's all of us together. I wish I could go to work today."

It's still not clear what caused the fire. The Saskatoon Fire Department will be speaking to the media this afternoon.

Too early to determine cause

Assistant fire chief of communications Wayne Rodger said about 75 per cent of the building has been damaged by the fire.

Rodger said the department is 'fairly confident' the fire started in the kitchen of Bonanza but it is still too early to determine what the heat source was. 

Investigators have noted an area of origin which measures about five square feet. 

There is no estimate yet of the cost of the damage to the restaurant.