By Jane Hill

Daily Journal

ECRU – Fire investigators tramped through piles of soaking ash and fallen beams Wednesday in search of the cause of a fire that destroyed the Ecru Fish and Steak House, one of the city’s most popular restaurants.

Nickey Browning, a state senator and owner of the restaurant, said Wednesday he was still waiting to hear from his insurance adjuster as to whether his hopes of rebuilding can be realized. Browning estimated the damage at $100,000.

“I have received calls from all kinds of people who are sorry about the fire and who are hoping that we will reopen,” Browning said. “I am hoping that we can, too. I think we ran a pretty good place and served some really good food.”

Ecru Mayor Sam Newsum said the fire was a severe blow to the community both because the restaurant was so popular and because it generated sales tax revenue for the city.

“All day people have been asking, ‘Where are we going to have a good weekend eating place?'” Newsum said. “That restaurant was one of our mainstays.”

Many city residents did not learn of the fire until Tuesday morning when they drove through town and saw the fallen storefront awning and gutted building, Newsum said.

Firefighters from Ecru, Hurricane and Pontotoc arrived early Tuesday morning to extinguish the fire and keep it from spreading to two neighboring businesses – the Nowlin Insurance Co. and Glenda’s Pageant Shop.

Both businesses suffered smoke and water damage and their owners also were awaiting word on insurance settlements.

Cause undetermined

Deputy Fire Marshal Charlie Burns, Pontotoc County Arson Investigator Leo Mask and Pontotoc Fire Chief Barry Carnes spent Wednesday exploring the building and searching for evidence of what caused the fire.

Mask said they had ruled out a grease fire because the fire started on or near the roof of the building.

“See the lower part of the restaurant isn’t burnt up,” Mask said. “The fire started high and it burned high.”

Mask said though it’s clear the fire started to the rear of the building, the exact cause is still under investigation.

Ken Nowlin estimated the damage to his 12-year-old insurance business at between $30,000 and $40,000 because of damage to computer equipment, carpeting and woodwork.

“I think the fire departments did a good job,” Nowlin said. “My insurance adjuster couldn’t believe that my building didn’t burn down also.”

Browning said his duties in Jackson will slow the process of getting the business going again since the legislative session usually lasts into April.

If he is able to rebuild, Browning said he would like to expand the restaurant because the dining rooms in the existing building were too small to handle the volume of customers who came in Thursdays through Saturdays when the restaurant was open.

Browning purchased the restaurant from Bobby Boatwright, a former Justice Court judge in Pontotoc, about two years ago. Boatwright opened and ran the restaurant for 13 years. Boatwright said the business drew customers from Benton, Lafayette, Lee, Tippah and Union counties as well as Pontotoc.

“It’s not going to be a quick turnaround,” Browning said. “Just like when Malone’s burned down. It’s not so easy to get everything up and going again.”

Malone’s Fish and Steak House, another popular weekend eatery on the Pontotoc and Lee County line, was gutted by fire in mid-July.

“In the meantime we wait and enjoy the wonderful aroma of wood smoke,” said Tina Turner, one of Nowlin’s employees.

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