Business building in Santa Maria
Construction continues on the Santa Maria building where a massive fire in January consumed businesses Shaw’s Famous Steakhouse & Tavern and Sergio’s Furniture and Mattress. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Investigators looking into the cause of a huge blaze that destroyed a popular steakhouse and a furniture store in Santa Maria more than seven months ago believe that someone intentionally set the fire.

At about 6 a.m. Jan. 3, personnel from the Santa Maria Fire Department and the Santa Maria Police Department responded to the 700 block of South Broadway and found a fire in an alley behind the building for Shaw’s Famous Steakhouse & Tavern and Sergio’s Furniture and Mattress.

Crews called a second alarm for the massive structure fire that burned for hours in the 700 block of South Broadway, bringing in additional resources from Santa Barbara County, San Luis Obispo County, CalFire and the Five Cities Fire Authority.

“We have completed the preliminary report in which we concluded it was arson,” Fire Marshal Darrell Delgado of the Santa Maria Fire Department said.

However, the final findings were awaiting completion of reports by an electrical engineer and the Department of Justice, Delgado said this week, adding that investigators have eliminated electrical troubles or other accidental causes as the source of the fire. He declined to spell out details about how the fire most likely sparked.

“We have lots of video, and we have lots of eyewitness information regarding the exact time and the place where the fire started,” Delgado said. “Everything points to an intentional act, and that’s what we’ll pursue as we get more information.”

For safety reasons because of the building’s instability, investigators had limited time inside the structure after the fire.

“Because of the place this fire started, we had access to the areas where we absolutely had to examine,” Delgado said. “I got in, but I didn’t get to spend the time I wanted inside. Fortunately, I could follow everything back to where we thought it started, and we had good access to that area. It’s more difficult than some of them, but any time a roof comes in, your access is compromised to some degree.”

He added that it’s helpful for the investigation when firefighters can keep the roof intact.

The intensity of the fire and collapsed roof forced firefighters into defensive mode early in the battle, officials said that morning. Firefighters stopped flames from spreading to the nearby Santa Maria Valley Discovery Museum and The Pantry on Park restaurant. 

In the months since the fire, workers have removed the charred debris from the 15,225-square-foot building’s interior, leaving just the walls. More recently, construction crews have added wood framing and steel as they work to restore the homes for both businesses.

Renovation work will include the addition of fire sprinklers to aid firefighters if needed in the future, Delgado added.

While fans have been without the popular Shaw’s Steakhouse since the fire, Sergio’s has opened a temporary store on the second level of the Santa Maria Town Center

“We’ll be moving back to the Broadway location,” said Sergio Diaz, who has operated the business since 1992. 

A sign outside the Broadway building directs customers to the temporary home.

“We were very fortunate our customers came over here and found us,” Diaz said.

He said he hopes to be back at the Broadway location in November, and he said both businesses plan to celebrate their reopenings together after completion of the reconstruction.

A representative from Milt Guggia Enterprises Inc., owner of Shaw’s plus several other restaurants on the Central Coast, did not return a call for comment.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.