Essex Seafood owner plans rebuild after catastrophic fire

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photo. The scene of a fire earlier this week at Essex Seafood on Eastern Avenue in Essex. 5/14/20

ESSEX — Howie Lane, owner of Essex Seafood, said he'll be rebuilding his restaurant after a majority of it burned to the ground on Mother's Day.

"We're just waiting for the insurance to do something," Lane said Thursday. "We're going to tear it down and build it up again."   

Just before midnight on Sunday, after a full-day shift of filling out take-out orders, Lane was shocked to learn the restaurant he and his wife, Debbie, owned for the past 24 years was up in flames.

"It's just so hard," he said. "When we moved in there, it was one little square room. We built the restaurant up over 24 years. We had our heart and soul in that building. I couldn't stop shaking watching it burn."

Fire officials say the blaze originated a ceiling-mounted gas heater that was left on after closing. An estimated $250,000 worth of damages was left in the fire's wake. No injuries were reported.

The fire is yet another hurdle Lane and his employees have had to face in the last few months. The coronavirus pandemic has put a strain on the restaurant industry — many across the nation have closed their doors since the coronavirus pandemic began. In March, Essex Seafood switched to take-out meals only in compliance with Gov. Charlie Baker's emergency shutdown order i March. Lane said he was initially anxious about the change. However, the pandemic caused a small boom for his business.  

"We had 50 to 60 percent more business during quarantine," he explained. "We went from totally busy to nothing — can't do a thing." 

But Lane's not letting this recent tragedy get the best of him. He has big plans to bring Essex Seafood back better than ever.

"We want to rebuild just like it was, with the wood inside just like we had," Lane said. "I have a lot of friends that do construction and cement work — they've all reached out to me. We'll make it company friendly, handicap-friendly and put a sprinkler system in so nothing like this will happen again."

The grand reopening celebration, he said, will be a big feast for the firefighters who worked diligently to extinguish the Mother Day's fire. 

"I can't believe they saved the house," Lane said. "They more than did their job. They're the real heroes. Everything will be on the house — no charge."

Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or



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