Early morning fire torches kitchen, offices, dining room at Michael’s on Main in Soquel; cause not yet determined

Fire damage to the side dining room at Michael's on Main.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“It looks to me like nothing survived up there,” owner Michael Harrison told Lookout after the blaze first reported just after 4 a.m. Thursday at the Soquel restaurant and live music venue. “It’s completely gutted, with sunlight coming in through the roof.”

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A fire broke out early Thursday morning at Soquel restaurant Michael’s on Main. First reports from the scene show that the Michael’s building sustained significant damage to its interior. Fire officials said they didn’t yet know the fire’s cause. No one was injured in the blaze.

The kitchen, side dining room and offices sustained heavy damage. While financial and employee files, a Martin guitar and some art were lost, Michael Harrison, owner of Michael’s on Main, told Lookout’s Kevin Painchaud he is grateful firefighters were able to save a valuable collection of Grateful Dead art on the walls of the restaurant.

“It looks to me like nothing survived up there,” Harrison said. “It’s completely gutted, with sunlight coming in through the roof. We’ll see what it leads to.”

The restaurant is closed until further notice, with any rebuilding timeline subject to the thorough investigation now beginning.

The fire early Thursday as firefighters converged on Michael’s on Main.
The fire early Thursday as firefighters converged on Michael’s on Main.
(Via Michael Harrison)

Santa Cruz fire dispatch received a call from a neighboring business and responded to the scene at 2591 Main St. in Soquel just before 4:30 a.m. The fire burned through the roof and rear of the building and damaged nearby power lines, reported Mike DeMars, fire marshal for the Central Fire District of Santa Cruz County. Power also went out for nearby buildings, and was expected to be out into Thursday evening.

The fire burned through the roof over the office at Michael's on Main.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

“It looks like it started in the interior of the building,” DeMars said of the blaze. “That’s really all the information I have right now.”

Harrison said he received a phone call from his alarm company around 4 a.m. When he checked the cameras on the inside of the restaurant, only three or four of the 12 were working and he saw what looked like “clouds.” As he looked at his phone, he received a call from Said Karssli, the owner of Little Tampico, Michael’s on Main’s neighbor, alerting him that he had seen a fire break out at the restaurant. By the time Harrison arrived at the restaurant just before 5 a.m., five or six companies of firefighters were already on the scene.

Harrison said he has “no idea” what could have started the fire. He explained that a manager had closed out the restaurant at 10 p.m. Wednesday and hadn’t noted anything unusual. He said he had also recently installed a new automatic fire suppression system that should have gone off but apparently never did.

Since 2017, Michael’s on Main has been programming an ambitious slate of live-music acts, featuring local and touring bands and regular Sunday afternoon Grateful Dead-themed jam sessions. Among its scheduled events now in doubt because of the fire is a benefit show to raise money for a park named for slain Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Deputy Damon Gutzwiller on Sept. 16, and the debut of a new dinner-theater event called “Body on the Beach” scheduled for Sept. 24.

The Michael’s on Main schedule is programmed by Tom Miller, the longtime music promoter and booker who created similar schedules at former live-music hot spots throughout Santa Cruz County, including O.T. Price’s Music Hall, Henfling’s Tavern and Don Quixote’s.

What was left of the kitchen at Michael's on Main.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Michael’s on Main was originally opened by Michael Clark in 2001 and soon won over local fans. Clark was committed to using ingredients from nearby farms and featured local artists, wineries and breweries on his menu, which offered classic American comfort food, including steaks, burgers and large salads. The outdoor dining area featuring a gazebo overlooking Soquel Creek became a draw for celebrations.

Clark sold the restaurant to Bonny Doon residents Harrison and wife Colleen in 2016. The couple maintained the charm that the bar, restaurant and music venue had cultivated over the previous 15 years, and kept many of the most popular menu items while slowly introducing new updates.

In 2017, the couple hired local music promoter Miller, who left his previous tenure at Don Quixote’s in Felton when that venue came under new ownership. With Miller at the helm, Michael’s on Main became a notable music venue, featuring prominent blues, soul, bluegrass, Americana and rock acts. Local musicians who play regularly at Michael’s include Carolyn Sills Combo, Anthony Arya, James Durbin & The Lost Boys, China Cats, and AZA. It has also hosted a number of tribute bands, playing the familiar music of everyone from Neil Young to Fleetwood Mac, and frequent birthday shows for well-known local musicians.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.