Fire damages landmark Milford restaurant

Scribner’s Restaurant suffered major damage Wednesday night in a fire that may have started in the kitchen.

The fire started around 11:15 p.m. at 31 Village Road in Woodmont, according to fire officials.

Restaurant owners George Scribner Bliss and his wife, Susan Bliss, were in New Hampshire at the time the fire started. They returned to Milford after Patricia Cuzino, a long-time friend, notified them about the blaze.

Bliss said this was the first time an alarm turned out to be more than a false alarm. “This has been their livelihood,” Cuzino said. Cuzino seemed pessimistic about the restaurant reopening due to the internal damage, coupled with the fact the building is more than 100 years old.

But Bliss said he would like to reopen the restaurant some day, noting that he will have to wait until insurance adjusters examine the structure. He does not own the building, which includes three apartments on the second floor.

Occupants of the apartments all got out of the building safely. They were alerted by the fire alarm and got out before responders arrived, according to Fire Battalion Chief Anthony Fabrizi. Two adjacent apartment buildings were also evacuated as a precaution. Those occupants were later allowed back into their units after the scene was determined to be safe.

When firefighters arrived on the scene Wednesday night, they found a large volume of smoke and fire coming from the rear of the structure, Fabrizi said.

“Fire crews aggressively deployed multiple hose lines into the building in order to suppress the blaze,” Fabrizi said. “Their efforts prevented the fire from spreading into three apartments located on the second floor of the building. Although firefighters managed to gain control of the blaze quickly, the majority of the structure suffered severe smoke damage.”

Viewed from the outside, chunks of the ceiling and roof were cut open, which Bliss said was done to ventilate the smoke.

Bliss said he did not know how the fire started.

Cuzino said it was obvious that the damage inside was substantial, noting that the doors to the freezer/refrigerator were melted.

Bliss said the damage was largely confined to the kitchen, where most of the integral and expensive parts of the restaurant are located.

Bliss added that the electrical systems were “cooked.”

Many employees and family members live locally, and witnessed the fire, Bliss said.

“It’s just a shame,” said long-time friend Joe Cuzino. “Every kid used to get their first job here. It’s family.”

Bliss bought the restaurant with his father in 1972. He said he was looking for a job when his father found the restaurant for sale. Back then it was Ed Stowe’s restaurant and fish market.

At the time, Bliss worked at the Red Coach Grill, which he said was affiliated with the Howard Johnson company.

“I was the only one [of the new owners] with a weird name,” he joked, commenting on the unique name of the restaurant. He said he was the chief cook and bottle washer.

The general attitude on Thursday was sorrow, but Bliss said, “What can you do?” and he was able to joke about life’s challenges.

A steady flow of family and friends, including uncles, former co-workers and current staff, arrived bearing coffee, heading to the back of the restaurant to help clear the property and see the damage. Printers, filing cabinets, a computer and other belongings were removed.

The Milford Fire Marshal’s division is investigating the cause of the fire.