Restaurant fire appears to be arson

Fire at The Lunch Box restaurant left smoke damage

JENSEN BEACH — A Wednesday morning fire at The Lunch Box restaurant left smoke damage throughout the single-story building, and it "appeared to be an act of arson," according to officials and a sheriff's report.

Martin County Fire Rescue crews were called about 2:18 a.m. Wednesday to the incident in the 2400 block of Northeast Dixie Highway, Fire Rescue spokesman Doug Killane said. Killane said there were no reported injuries.

Arriving units saw heavy smoke coming from the rear of the building, and the fire was extinguished within about 10 minutes, he said.

"I'm just crushed right now," said Michael Hutchins, 44, who said he owns the business with his wife and another couple.

According to a Martin County Sheriff's Office report, a state fire marshal detective told a deputy that during a preliminary investigation he saw signs of forced entry to a rear door and "advised . . . the incident appeared to be an act of arson."

That detective could not immediately be reached Wednesday.

"I'm devastated," Hutchins said. "Nobody should have to experience this. I can't tell you what it's like. It's violating."

The sheriff's report indicated there was $15,000 in damages.

Hutchins said the business was supposed to open in September. A staff had been hired and promotional activities done, but state regulators in Tallahassee said a septic tank and a grease trap had to be replaced, which he said was the landlord's responsibility.

"That's just what threw the loop into everything," he said.

Hutchins, who lives less than two blocks away, said the septic tank and grease trap finally were installed but the financial strain in the meantime left him broke. Had the fire not happened, Hutchins said he expected the business to be open by May 1 at the latest.

He said the business was decorated with items including family pictures, paintings from community members, his son's first electric guitar and his daughter's first wetsuit.

"It was supposed to be a real Rio, Jensen kind of place for families to hang out and party on the weekend," he said.

Hutchins said The Lunch Box's future is unclear.

"Right now I'm just so shattered," he said. "Me and my family are just emotionally and physically beat down behind this."

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