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Fire destroys popular midtown Mediterranean restaurant

Posted at 6:38 PM, Mar 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-20 18:39:49-04

A fire gutted a popular midtown Manhattan restaurant and damaged an upstairs mosque early Wednesday morning.

According to the FDNY, the fire began at 154 East 55th St. just before 5 a.m. on Wednesday.

Galal Issa, the manager of Omar's Mediterranean Cuisine, said two workers were preparing for the day when they noticed smoke. Soon after, there were flames.

Upstairs at the Islamic Society of Mid Manhattan, the Imam and the mosque secretary were getting ready for early morning prayers.

"We were taken by surprise. I hear this banging on the door and there's the fire department," mosque secretary Abdul Haqq said.

Everyone got out safely. The FDNY said there were only four minor injuries, but Omar's was destroyed.

"What a tremendous loss," customer Amanda Bell-Kirson said. Lunchtime crowds often stretched down the block.

Afternoon customers walking up to Omar's hoping to get lunch, instead found a burned-out store front.

Normally throughout the day, hundreds come to pray at the midtown mosque on the second floor, but only a few prayed Wednesday afternoon among the debris. The FDNY had to open up 2nd floor walls to make sure there was no fire.

Issa, Omar's manager, said he already misses the customers. "So we'll have to be back soon," he said, confirming the restaurant staff plans to rebuild after the fire.

The FDNY said the fire does not appear to be suspicious, but the investigation continues.