An early morning fire ripped through a Bed-Stuy eatery, Bread-Love, leaving the cafe's owners and neighbors totally stunned and confused about the fire's cause.
Approximately five dozen firemen were called to the scene at around 3:21am Wednesday with reports of a fire on the first floor of a four-story brownstone, located at 375 Stuyvesant Avenue, known in the community as Stuyvesant Mansion.
That first floor area turned out to be the home of the organic-inspired, indoor-outdoor coffee shop, Bread-Love, which leases the stable house part of the mansion it shares with Freebrook Academy and the Brooklyn Movement Center.
Bread-Stuy and the mansion were empty at the time of the fire. So no residents were injured, although one firefighter suffered a minor injury and another was treated on the scene, reported the FDNY.
But the fire completely demolished the cafe's kitchen, waiting area and part of the enclosed outdoor foyer.
Inside of the mansion, on the second floor that sits above the restaurant, windows were broken and floor boards were pulled up. The fire was brought under control at around 4:22am, said an FDNY spokesman. But the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Bread-Love co-owners and husband-and-wife team Hillary and Lloyd Porter were on the scene still surveying the damage at around 3:00pm.
Their eyes were red and somber as they walked quietly around the open courtyard area, talking with co-workers and a few friends about what to do next.
Hillary said she was first alerted there was a fire in the restaurant at around 3:30 in the morning, and she rushed right over. She said she arrived to a smoky scene, as dozens of FDNY worked to put down a handful of small fires in different areas of the café.
Hillary said she believes the cause might be arson, because of the way the fire was spread out in pockets and because they had no known electrical issues at the restaurant.
Additionally, she said, they had experienced a few break-ins on Sunday and Monday, which made them suspicious that the business might have been targeted.
The fire is particularly devastating for the Porters since this is the second time they've had to deal with a business loss.
The first business they owned, Bread-Stuy, a coffee shop located on Lewis Avenue between Decatur and MacDonough, in the 2000s had become a popular Bed-Stuy destination.
But it shuttered in 2011 after seven years in business, due to a variety of issues, which might have included an alleged health code violation and some other reasons that were not disclosed.
The closing of Bread-Stuy was a big blow to the Porters and to the heart of the community, as the java and pastry shop had become a mainstay and hub for artists, musicians, activists, students and locals alike.
Almost exactly two years later, in May 2013, Bread-Love opened out of stable house on the Decatur Street side of the Stuyvesant Mansion.
The would-be parking lot area of the cafe was dotted with park benches and lots of plants, adding a very outdoor-organic, farm-to-table feel to their new café. And Bread-Love just celebrated its one-year anniversary.
"I still can't believe this has happened," said Victoria Porter, Lloyd's sister-in-law. "Who would do something like this?"
Victoria was taking her son for a walk in his stroller just around the corner from the restaurant, as the smoke and fumes were still quite strong.
"I just heard about it on Facebook like two hours ago. I opened my page to see all of these comments and then I came down here and I couldn't believe it.
"The family has been so shocked about the whole thing, so upset, they're not really talking to anyone yet.
"But I know how terrible this is affecting them because they really put their heart and their soul into getting this started, especially after their other restaurant closed down," she said.
When asked about whether they planned to pick up the pieces and try yet one more time to re-open the business, Hillary shrugged her shoulders and sighed, "I don't know right now, I really can't say."