Cause of Restaurant Fire Ruled Undetermined; Help For Employees

by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
photos/video by SC Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen

Officials from the Florida State Fire Marshal Office ruled the cause of a devastating fire Saturday, Aug. 6 at The Island Cow as undetermined. The popular restaurant on Periwinkle Way, next to the Community House, was so badly damaged it is unsafe to enter the building.

There is extensive damage visible on the roof of The Island Cow restaurant, following a kitchen fire Saturday night. The building has been deemed unsafe to enter by fire officials.

“Safety is the highest priority for our firefighters and the investigators,” said Sanibel Fire & Rescue District Fire Marshal Larry Williams. “We are just grateful no one was injured.”

The fire broke out in the kitchen as the restaurant was closing just after 10:30 p.m. and quickly spread. Firefighters from six districts responded to the scene and initially battled the fire from inside the building, but had to exit as conditions became unsafe. Sanibel Fire was back on scene the next morning to asses the damage.

“Island Cow has been a staple restaurant for residents and visitors alike,” said Fire Chief William Briscoe. “It is a sad day to see such a landmark destroyed by fire. Our firefighters did all we could to save the building, but we are grateful no one was inside and all resources on scene safely extinguished the flames.”

A few burn marks are visible on the outside of the building.

The restaurant has been a part of the island community for more than two decades and known for its “udderly great American food and fun,” serving more than 300 menu items, specialty coffees, desserts and tropical cocktails.

In the wake of the fire, the restaurant’s 50 employees are now facing unemployment until it can be rebuilt. Since that could take a year or more, Island Cow Owners Brian and Elke Podlasek, with help from Put It On Pete’s Tab, launched the #HelpingtheHerd campaign to raise up to $250,000, enough to cover two months of employee’s wages. The Podlaseks plan to match funds raised up to $10,000.

“We are grateful to everyone who has reached out to share concerns and offer support since the fire. Many have asked what they can do to help,” said Elke Podlasek. “Some (of our employees) have worked for us since we first opened our doors and have known no other job since they were teenagers. They’re the ones we need to support during this time of uncertainty.”

The Island Cow Staff gives a thumbs up after meeting Aug. 10, the first time since the fire. A fundraising page has been set up to help cover two months of their wages, as they face unemployment until the restaurant can be rebuilt. Photo provided.

Put It On Pete’s Tab was established to help hospitality workers, with 100 percent of donations contributed directly to the employees – not to the owners or efforts to rebuild. The organization honors generous Michigan and Florida hospitality worker Peter O’Brien, who passed away unexpectedly in March 2020.

O’Brien was part of the Sanibel community and worked at Blue Giraffe, CinCin, Bubble Room, Doc Ford’s and George & Wendy’s restaurants. His friends and family decided to gift money he had after his death to hospitality workers who lost income due to COVID-19 closures.

Island Cow owners Elke and Brian Podlasek before the fire. Photo provided

“Sanibel was Pete’s island – if he were alive, he’d be the first one standing outside The Island Cow raising money,” said his sister, Emily Iafrate, a co-founder of Put It On Pete’s Tab. “He would be offering his shifts up to the employees knowing they needed it more than he did. We are honored to be a part of the effort to support The Island Cow employees.”

Tax-deductible donations can be made through Put It On Pete’s Tab donorbox account. Donors can send checks to the fund at Put It On Pete’s Tab, Inc., P.O. Box 150911, Cape Coral, FL 33915.

Donations can also be made through Venmo to @PutItOnPetesTab or Zelle to

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