Their Mother's Day meal was mostly eaten when Jodie Rubio and her family first smelled the smoke at Buca di Beppo in Brandon, which moments later was evacuated in a timely fashion.
"We didn't get up immediately, but then we heard the alarms go off and we left the building," Rubio said May 12, waiting outside the family style Italian restaurant on Causeway Boulevard, to recover the cell phone she left inside, as firefighters worked to ensure the building's safety.
"I felt bad for the waiters and the waitresses because this would have been a big night for them in tips," Rubio added. "We gave our waitress a good tip, about $50, to help her out because she'll probably be out of work for awhile and she's in school."
No injuries were reported in the fire, for which a 911 call had been received at about 7:30 p.m., according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesperson Ronnie Rivera. He added in a later report that "the cause of the fire is still under investigation but it is believed to be an accidental fire."
Rivera was interviewed on the scene, at 11105 Causeway Blvd., at about 8:40 p.m.
"The restaurant was pretty packed, with about 200, 250 people, including customers and staff," he said. "They saw smoke, they smelled smoke and the smoke alarm went off. Everything happened at about the same time."
The building was evacuated and the call to 911 was placed.
"The first engine crew went in but did not see visible flames," Rivera said. "They put a hole in the [west] wall and saw the flames."
In all, three engines, one ladder truck, two batallion chiefs and a rescue unit arrived on the scene, with two additional engines arriving to relieve those on duty, Rivera said.
He added that it took about 20 to 25 minutes to put out the fire.
"Right now we don't know what caused the fire," Rivera said. "That's the stage we're in right now, we're investigating to see what started this fire."
As for the nature of the fire, "it looks like it was traveling up the wall, up the void inside the wall," Rivera said. Firefighters put a hole in the wall outside the building to make that determination, he added.
"It didn't seem like it was real," said Rubio, about the interruption to her family meal, with her daughters, her son, her son-in-law and grandchildren. "But we're okay and we'll be back, it was just an unfortunate incident."
As Rubio sees it: "We'll just look back on it as the Mother's Day where the restaurant caught on fire."