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Patrons helping Sams Cafe workers after fire
Sams Cafe closed after Fridays fire. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Signs were taped to the windows of Sam's Café on Monday, reassuring customers "We are doing everything in our power to re-open as soon as possible" after a Friday evening fire scorched the popular downtown breakfast and lunch restaurant.

Another sign on the front window of the eatery at 3052 Fifth Street pledged: "We will be back!!"

A group of dedicated customers has since pledged to raise funds for the 10 employees who momentarily lost jobs.

The fire broke out at approximately 6 p.m. with flames and light to medium smoke pouring from the roof. Ceres firefighters arrived quickly and put out the flames after an aggressive interior attack with a crew on the roof cutting holes in the roof for ventilation.

Because someone was reported on the roof, Ceres Police Sgt. Travis Hudson walked to the back of the restaurant and climbed to the roof by a ladder propped up next to a construction truck. He saw two men on the roof trying in vain to put out the fire, which was already out of control. Hudson ordered both men to get off the roof. It was later determined the men were contracted to do work on the roof and had been using a roofing torch when the underside of the roof caught fire. The workers did not initially notice the roof was on fire and it was too late when they noticed.

There were no injuries to any firefighters.

Devout customers Lee and Shelia Brandt were on the scene of the fire and were amazed at the rapid joint response of firefighters from both Ceres and Modesto firefighters. Shelia likened the restaurant to the café on the TV show Cheer's, saying, it's been a place where "everybody knows your name."

Wes and Torri Stamper, regular customers of Sam's Café, are spearheading an effort to hold a Friday, Dec. 15 dinner-dance fundraiser. The event will begin at 6 p.m. at the Ceres American Legion Memorial Building, corner of Ninth and Lawrence and scheduled to end at 11 p.m. Cost is $25 per person and because there is a capacity of 180, tickets are expected to go fast.

"Sam's Café, to a lot of people in this community, has been more than just a place to go eat," Wes Stamper told the Ceres City Council on Monday. "That's where you go to connect with everybody. You can always count a table full of Lions Club members or Soroptimists. I know that's where I go to take my grandpa or take my sons to have a nice breakfast or lunch with their great-grandpa."

He said owner Sherrill McManus Peterson has done lots for the community, donating to many charitable causes. Stamper said it's only natural that the community step in and help the restaurant and crew. He said within 24 hours a 15-person fundraising committee had been set up with 300 offering to assist through a Facebook page, named Holiday Hoedown for Sam's Cafe. Many have offered to donate prizes for an auction.

"The urge for this to happen so quickly is, if you think about it, it wasn't just a fire at this facility, 10 people lost their jobs and how many of them had children? So you're talking upwards of 25 to 30 people that are going to have a really hard Christmas and holiday season. So the urgency to get something set up right away was to help ease that pain for them."

The Facebook page is set up with the names of all the employees affected by the fire and a list of their children's ages and gender for any donation of Christmas gifts. Stamper's contact information is on the page as well.