Updated 8:55 a.m. | Posted 6:24 a.m.
An early morning fire Thursday badly damaged a well-known pavilion on the northeast corner of Bde Maka Ska, also known as Lake Calhoun.
The building houses Lola on the Lake, a small restaurant at the corner of Lake Street and East Lake Calhoun Parkway.
Firefighters were called to the scene about 4 a.m. as strong thunderstorms rolled through the area.
Crews fought the blaze from outside the building because the pavilion doors were locked and the structure's metal roof had collapsed, said deputy fire chief Don Leedham.
Neighbors told an arson investigator they heard loud booms, indicating a possible lightning strike, "so that's what he's thinking initially caused it," said Leedham.
Damage to the interior of the building appeared extensive. Fire officials said the outer walls seem relatively intact.
Sheffield Priest, who owned a restaurant that operated out of the pavilion before Lola took over the space in 2018, said the loss of the eatery will be felt by many people who escape to the urban lake in the summer.
"It's the place where everybody can go to the lake on the weekend," he said. "It's the place where everybody has a cabin, where everybody can meet a friend and sit outside, have some food and some drink and be together. It's the city's patio."
Louis King, owner of Lola on the Lake, said the operation had had some growing pains it's first year but was poised to staff up for what he expected would be a better summer this year.
He said he was focused now on his employees in the wake of the fire.
"Right now, I've got to take care of my people. They were counting on this to take care of their families and we've got to figure that out," he said. "The building will be alright. The business will be alright. It's the people."
Eric Austin, the executive chef at Lola on the Lake, said the restaurant opened for the season a week ago, and had a great day on Wednesday.
"It was going to be a hell of a summer," he said. "Now it's going to be a hell of a summer."
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