Around 10:20 p.m., employees called 9-1-1 to report the fire, which apparently started on the smoking deck at the back of the building on Highway 174 and Rollins Lake Road. The restaurant had closed for the night, but the bar was still open, noted owner John Panelli.
Firefighters arrived within seven minutes of the call, said Calfire Battalion Chief Chris Paulus.
“At that point the back side of the smoking deck area was heavily involved,” he said. “It had reached into the basement, restaurant and attic simultaneously. There was heavy smoke coming out of the attic.”
The attic was being used to store extra materials, including cardboard boxes packed with Christmas decorations, Paulus said.
Within minutes of their arrival, Paulus continued, the fire had reached the gas and electric meters, which exploded adding fuel to the fire.
Paulus ordered that electric and gas service to 110 residents and businesses in close proximity be shut down, turning it back on early Friday morning.
“We tried an aggressive attack on the back side, but couldn’t make entry (into the building), Paulus said. “After 20 minutes of heavy fighting, I made the decision to turn it to a defensive operation.”
When the roof began to sag, Paulus said, the safety of the firefighters became a priority.
Fire crews from Calfire, Placer County Fire, Colfax Volunteer Fire and Peardale Fire worked through the night to keep the blaze from spreading to neighboring buildings and homes.
On Friday morning, fire crews continued to put water and fire retardant on the smoldering remains of the historic business.
Owner John Panelli, standing next to the ruins, said he was at home when he received the call from one of his employees.
“I put on my shoes and came down here,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
Panelli’s primary concern on Friday morning was finding work for his 22 employees.
“If the community would put my people to work any place they’ve got jobs,” he said, adding he was willing to be the contact for connecting employees with job opportunities. He can be reached at 346-8228 or 477-9530.
The oldest restaurant in Placer County, it was opened in 1941 by Gulio and Josephine Panelli, who moved from Nevada City to the small community of Shady Glen, on Highway 40, then the main route over the Sierra at the time.
They purchased what was then known as The Auto Camp and opened Shady Glen Inn, a restaurant and bar catering to travelers, who often stayed overnight at the camp.
When Gulio died in 1945, his widow continued serving Italian food at the restaurant until 1961. After she remarried, Josephine decided to close the business.
In the meantime, John Panelli had started teaching automotive repair on the Rocklin campus of Sierra College.
After his mother died in 1975, Panelli began renovating the restaurant. He expanded the building and turned the former Auto Camp into Shady Glen, a manufactured home development.
To pay tribute to his Italian roots, Panelli reopened the restaurant under his Italian name, Giovanni, in 1982.
While the cause of Thursday night’s fire is undetermined, Paulus has asked the Arson Task Force Team to join the investigation.
“The whole thing is just a dirty rotten shame,” Paulus said.
With the winter and holiday season approaching, Paulus urged residents to check the smoke detectors in their homes and develop an emergency evacuation plan.
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