The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

5-Alarm Fire Destroys Popular Frontier Coffee Shop in Murray Hill

By DNAinfo Staff on September 10, 2010 11:50am  | Updated on September 10, 2010 11:52am

By Olivia Scheck

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MURRAY HILL — A popular diner and a Lebanese restaurant were destroyed by a massive 5-alarm fire in Murray Hill on Friday.

A fire broke out around 12:32 a.m. at the building that houses the Frontier Coffee Shop and the Lebanese restaurant Byblos on the corner of 39th Street and Third Avenue.

Firefighters were on the scene within five minutes and evacuated the buildings adjacent to the fire. The roof eventually became engulfed in flames and part of it collapsed, a fire official said.

The fire may have started in the ceiling above the kitchen in the coffee shop, an employee said. The FDNY said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Firefighters were still pouring water on hot spots as of 10:30 a.m. Traffic was shut down on Third Avenue from 36th Street up to 43rd Street. There were also delays on the M15 and M50 bus line. The M101, M102 and M103 buses were diverted from Third Avenue to First Avenue as a result of the fire.

Firefighters pour water on the roof of Byblos restaurant in Murray Hill. The restaurant was destroyed by an early morning fire on Friday.
Firefighters pour water on the roof of Byblos restaurant in Murray Hill. The restaurant was destroyed by an early morning fire on Friday.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Olivia Scheck

The Frontier Coffee Shop is a family owned business that has operated in Murray Hill since 1974, co-owner Spiro Kougemitros told DNAinfo.

"It was a neighborhood place," said Lauren Letellier, who used to live in Murray Hill and frequented the diner with her husband. "We used to come here on the weekends."

Kougemitros runs the restauarant with his cousin and brother in-law. His father and uncle emigrated to New York from Greece when they were in their 20s and opened he business in the mid-70s.

"They raised two families with this [business]," Kougemitros said.

"We're a staple of Murray Hill," Kougemitros added. "We're taking it one step at a time. We'd like to rebuild."

The coffee shop employed over 35 people, many of whom may be out of a job.

"I was walking down Park Avenue and I saw the smoke," said Marty Sanchez, 34, who's worked at the coffee shop for 16 years. "I didn't want to believe it."

About a dozen employees watched for hours as firefighters battled the flames.

"It was my second home," Sanchez added.

Waitress Hanna Ouji, 29, had struggled to find work before getting a job at the Frontier Coffee Shop two weeks ago.

"I was looking for a job for 8 months," Ouji, of Queens, said while fighting back tears. "They seemed like nice people."

The Lebanese restaurant, Byblos, was also destroyed by the fast-moving fire. The restaurant shared the same building and a kitchen with Frontier Coffee Shop, Kougemitros said. Byblos has been serving authentic Lebanese cuisine in the neighborhood since 1990, according to its website.

Fire officials said there were 15 minor injuries, including 12 firefighters who were treated on the scene. Two EMS workers and one DEP employee were also injured in the fire, but none of the injuries were serious.

About 44 fire trucks and over 200 firefighters were called to the scene to fight the 5-alarm blaze.

Margarita Murphy's, which is located next door to the coffee shop on Third Avenue, had to be evacuated. The bar was crowded full of patrons watching the football game between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings, manager Kevin Burke said.

"It was the first good night since the summer," Burke said. "It was a full bar because of the game."

Burke was eager to get back into his bar to assess any possible damage done as a result of the fire.

"The bartender said there was three feet of water in the basement," Burke said.