Dining With Denise Neil

Owners suspect fire that destroyed their restaurant on Thursday was intentionally set

The soda machine that sat next to the cash register at Gorditas Durango is now black and melted.
The soda machine that sat next to the cash register at Gorditas Durango is now black and melted. The Wichita eagle

A local restauranteur says a fire that destroyed his restaurant early Thursday morning was intentionally set.

Roberto and Rosa Lopez said they were awakened at around 3:45 a.m. on Thursday by a restaurant alarm, which send notifications to their phones.

When they arrived, they found Gorditas Durango, the tiny but popular restaurant that they’ve operated for seven years at 527 W. 13th St., on fire. Emergency vehicles were everywhere, they said.

When the fire was out, the restaurant was destroyed. The walls and roof were burned, and the soda machine that sat by the cash register was black and melted.

The couple and their son, Moses, said that when they got into the restaurant, they noticed the smell of gasoline on the east wall. They also found graffiti, which they suspect was the work of a local gang, scrawled on the wall above their walk-in freezer. The graffiti wasn’t there when they closed on Wednesday, they said. The family notified police, who came to look at the graffiti on Friday, just as the usual lunch crowd was pulling up.

Wichita Fire Marshal Stuart Bevis confirmed on Friday afternoon that the fire was ruled an arson. It is still under investigation, he said.

Roberto Lopez, who also is a pastor at a local church, had about a dozen friends and church members in the restaurant, removing furniture, scrubbing walls and building new support framing.

Through his son, who translated, Lopez said hew would rebuild the restaurant at the same spot. He does not know how long it will take, he said.

When Wichita Eagle Dining Panelist Brad Seehawer reviewed Gorditas Durango in 2014, he praised its gorditas, which are thick tortillas stuffed with meats.

I’ll update you when the restaurant is ready to reopen.

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