WATERVILLE — All may not be lost after a Sunday fire destroyed The Last Unicorn because the property owner said he plans to rebuild as soon as possible and the restaurant owner seeks to reopen.

“I plan to rebuild,” property owner Sidney Geller said Monday.

Restaurant owner John Picurro, who leased the building from Geller, said if all goes well with his insurer, he wants to work with Geller to reopen.

“It’s an iconic restaurant in the downtown area, and I think it belongs in that spot,” Picurro said.

The restaurant actually comprised two buildings, at 6 and 8 Silver St., according to Bruce Fowler, who for 34 years has managed that and other Geller properties downtown, including several on Silver Street.

Fowler was at the fire site Monday where workers from Casella Waste Systems were using an excavator to remove the rubble.


“They’re bringing both buildings to a secure landfill today,” Fowler said. “Tomorrow, they’re going to remove the foundations. Then they’re going to fill this in with gravel and grade it down to the Spring Street parking lot so that they’ll have a clear, open space here.”

Fowler and Geller said by phone earlier Monday they are moving quickly with cleanup and building plans.

“An architect will design a new building on that spot that will blend in with the existing architecture of Silver Street, and we’re not wasting any time,” Fowler said. “We’ve got boots on the ground to get the building up and occupied as soon as possible.”

A state fire investigator said the fire reported around 4 a.m. Sunday originated in a basket of greasy kitchen towels, located in a hallway between the restaurant’s kitchen and its bar where there was a washer and dryer, according to Fowler. The cause was spontaneous combustion, he said. The cotton material with oil in it was in a basket in a confined area and when exposed to oxygen, generated heat, according to Fowler.

“The heat continues to build in the confined area until it reaches combustion temperature and then it bursts into flames,” Fowler said.

Standing in the rain Monday at the back of the burned buildings, Fowler pointed to the charred area where the basket was, inside the building at 6 Silver St., closest to Silver Street Tavern to the east.


Workers from Casella moved in and out of the doorway to the restaurant’s prep kitchen on the basement level at the back of the 8 Silver St. section. A door next to it at 6 Silver St. opened into a room that had housed a refrigerator, freezer and other equipment. Fowler explained the restaurant’s primary kitchen was on the first floor of 6 Silver St., near the dining room.

The workers from Casella were working around a large pile of blackened rubble that included dented and twisted pots and pans that were blackened with soot, wooden dining room chairs piled against a wall, and chunks of bricks held together with mortar.

Back on Silver Street, Fowler explained the history of The Last Unicorn.

A worker with Casella walks near broken chairs and charred rubble Monday on the backside of The Last Unicorn restaurant on Silver Street. in downtown Waterville. Two excavators cleared and moved debris at the property on Monday, a day after a fire destroyed the restaurant. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

The restaurant may have appeared to be in only one building, but he explained that it was actually two. Honor Stanley and Rick Gallup opened the restaurant in 1978 at 8 Silver St., a wooden building, and then later expanded into 6 Silver, a brick building, by turning the alley between the two buildings into a hallway. There was an alley about a foot wide between 8 Silver and Cancun Mexican Bar and Grill next door, where a concrete wall reveals soot from Sunday’s fire. The east wall of The Last Unicorn did not touch Silver Street Tavern and in some places was about 3 feet away from it.

Firefighters from Waterville and several other towns were able to save Silver Street Tavern and the Cancun restaurant.

Silver Street owner Charlie Giguere said Monday that his building sustained some smoke damage, but no smoke came billowing into his restaurant during the fire. There was smoke damage in a stairway that leads up to his office on an upper floor and a carpet had to be ripped out. He said Advance 1 Cleaning Services crews went through the restaurant and there was no soot or smoke, but all surfaces and utensils were being wiped down as a precaution, according to Giguere.


“We just got preliminary approval to open (Tuesday),” he said.

Giguere recalled a fire in 2013 that destroyed the building next to the tavern on the Main Street side. That and an adjacent space are now occupied by a new building, Greene Block + Studios.

“Our building’s 150 years old, so it’s getting tested and she’s survived the tests this far,” Giguere said.

Picurro bought The Last Unicorn in 2019 and in June 2021, midway through the coronavirus pandemic, it closed. It reopened in February with a dozen staff including a general manager and chefs. Picurro also has a separate business, which includes the Gouda Boys food truck and Road Warrior Pizza truck. The business does catering, as well as concessions, around Maine and across the country.

Mayor Jay Coelho said Monday he raised more than $15,000 as part of The Good Project, a Boston-based entity, to help The Last Unicorn employees each receive $1,000 by the end of this week. He asked that they contact him at 877-7780 or stop by his business at You Broke It at 24 Common St.

“I’m concerned about the people that lost their jobs,” he said.


Picurro said he is grateful for the mayor’s efforts and for the outpouring from the community.

Cancun, owned by Hector Fuentes, remained closed Monday. Some Geller buildings were receiving remediation for smoke issues from the fire. An air exchanger was working in a building that houses Family Planning.

Machinery where burned rubble was removed Monday from the front side of the Last Unicorn restaurant and loaded into a dumpster on Silver Street in downtown Waterville. Two excavators cleared and moved debris at the property on Monday, a day after a fire destroyed the restaurant. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“We will remediate any of our tenants’ issues — always have,” Fowler said.

Waterville fire Chief Shawn Esler did not return a cellphone call Monday seeking additional details about the fire.

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