The owners of St Kilda restaurant Stokehouse have vowed to rebuild the iconic eatery after it was destroyed by fire.
On Saturday afternoon, the building was demolished after a blaze ripped through the two-storey building on Friday night, leaving staff and guests just minutes to escape.
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Stokehouse restaurant burns down
Around 200 patrons were evacuated from the much-loved Stokehouse on Friday night as the bayside restaurant became engulfed in fire.
There were no reports of injuries.
MFB Senior Officer Rod East said the fire originated in the kitchen from fat build-up in the flue over the griddle and rotisserie.
"It started on the ground floor. It would have been burning between the two different layers and the two fire crews that could have been trapped in there were lucky to get out as the fire erupted through the floor/ceiling between the two levels."
MFB Commander Bruce Pickthall said fire investigators were expected to work through the night with demolition crews.
"The structure collapsed inwards and then the iron roof collapsed on top of that.
"It's created encased pockets of fire that our hose streams just can't get to."
It's too dangerous to actually put a firefighter in the structure to attack it directly."
A 30-tonne excavator is slowly pulling apart a tin roof above the still-smouldering building.
The fire forced a couple due to have their wedding reception at the Jacka Boulevard restaurant on Saturday night to find a last-minute alternative.
Port Phillip Council mayor Amanda Stevens said the building was being demolished for safety reasons.
It was ‘‘tragic’’ to lose a building of such heritage significance, she said.
Owners Frank and Sharon Van Haandel vowed to rebuild the restaurant, which was due to celebrate its 25th anniversary this year.
"We are totally devastated that our beloved Stokehouse was lost in last night's fire, however, extremely relieved that nobody was injured throughout the event," a statement said.
They praised their staff for evacuating diners so speedily and thanked fire and emergency services and the wider community for "the incredible generosity, kind words of support and love".
"We plan to regroup and rebuild the icon that was due to celebrate its 25th birthday this year."
No other buildings on the foreshore have been damaged.
Dave Kersley who was due to marry his fiancee Liz at the restaurant on Saturday, arrived early in the morning to see the destruction for himself.
‘‘We felt we did the right thing and went to bed nice and early last night so there were no incidents but obviously, there were," he said outside the venue.
"We’ll deal with it.’’
A CBD venue came to the rescue, offering to host the couple’s reception following a garden ceremony in the early evening.
A Metropolitan Fire Brigade spokesman said firefighters were called to the scene at 11.12 pm Friday night.
The fire is said to have caused at least $1 million worth of damage.
A Victoria Police spokeswoman said the fire was not suspicious.
The fire quickly took hold of the ground and first floors, with the building’s open-space plan and wooden materials allowing the fire to spread quickly.
More than 200 diners and staff were forced to evacuate as flames engulfed the popular restaurant.
It took three hours to get the fire under control, with structural issues including the collapse of the roof and strong onshore winds hampering fire-fighter efforts at one point.
As news broke of the blaze on Friday evening, hundreds of people took to social media to express their shock at the loss of one of Melbourne’s most iconic eateries.
Singer and television presenter Natalie Bassingthwaighte married husband Cameron McGlinchey at the restaurant in 2011.
Others have tweeted fond memories of their weddings.
@Stokehouse so so sad. We had our wedding reception upstairs in dec last year. Life long memories— Mark Nelson (@SSedan14) January 17, 2014
The official Stokehouse Twitter account sent a message about 5.30am on Saturday: "Huge thanks to our brilliant staff for evacuating guests safely tonight & thank you for the MSGs of love & support re our beloved Stokehouse".
Huge thanks to our brilliant staff for evacuating guests safely tonight & thank you for the MSGs of love & support re our beloved Stokehouse— Stokehouse (@Stokehouse) January 17, 2014
A Stokehouse waitress, who asked not be named, said the lights went off just after 11pm.
Staff and guests were then told to evacuate the restaurant.
"We were hoping everything would be fine and saved, but then we saw flames coming out of the building," she said.
The blaze drew a crowd on Friday night as locals watched the eatery become engulfed.
"It’s like a festival out here," witness Melle Hatzissavas said.
"A Melbourne icon is burning down and it’s brought a lot of people together. People are kicking soccer balls... It’s bizarre and surreal to be here, it’s watching history happen."
The Van Haandels' extensive business interests include Stokehouse Q in Brisbane, Fatto at Hamer Hall, Mr Tulk at the State Library of Victoria and Comme.
In September, it was announced they would takeover running the fine dining restaurant at the Sydney Opera House.
Bennelong by Stokehouse is due to open in May.
Cr Stephens congratulated Stokehouse management for acting quickly to evacuate staff and patrons in such ‘‘extreme and frightening circumstances’’.
"We’d like to extend our gratitude to the firefighters who are still working to extinguish the fire, ensure the building is safe and our community is protected as well as the police who assisted with the evacuation and safety,’’ she said.
The restaurant site is on crown land and any discussion about its future will need to be negotiated with the Napthine Government, council and community.
- with Jill Stark
Entire F1 paddock in threat of 1st race starvation as The Stokehouse in St kilda has burnt down! pic.twitter.com/EOBIis9rHw— F1 Social Diary (@F1socialdiary) January 17, 2014